Public hearings into a proposed supportive housing development in Hope took place Nov.3 and 4 at the Hope Legion hall. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)

Public hearings into a proposed supportive housing development in Hope took place Nov.3 and 4 at the Hope Legion hall. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)

BC Housing provides mayor and council with details on supportive housing plans

Local politicians were able to ask BC Housing reps for details during two days of public hearings

In between speakers at Nov. 3 and 4 public hearings, Hope’s Mayor and council got the chance to pose questions to BC Housing about their plans to construct a supportive housing building in Hope.

Who will live in the supportive housing building?

One main topic of concern for residents who oppose BC Housing’s plans, is that people with no fixed address would be “sent” from other communities to fill the building. In response, BC Housing representatives said that it is not their intention to use the site for people who are not from the community.

“We understand that it is sometimes hard for a community to accept that they have their own homeless problem. This was our intention, to meet the needs of your community,” said Naomi Brunemeyer, BC Housing’s director of regional development for Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Regions.

Frank Tick, coordinated access and assessment manager with BC Housing, said the application process will involve a rigorous interview including establishing that prospective residents are from the community. “The priority will be folks that are homeless in Hope,” he said. “We’ve actually never had a situation where we’ve never been able to fill a building.”

Justin Byers, a supportive housing advisor with BC Housing, said that there is no hard and fast timeline set out for how long someone has lived here to be eligible for the building. It is based on need and is determined by the group doing the intake. Mayor and council, a community advisory committee and BC Housing could also have input into this he added.

“It’s really what makes most sense. Is the need in the community to serve people that have been here five years? Or is the need to serve people that have been here a year or less?” Byers said.

Gerry Dyble, executive director of the Hope and Area Transition Society (HATS) who are the prospective operators of the building, said that those who will be considered for housing would already need to be connected with services in the community. “So they can’t just come in off of the highway and say ‘I’m here for housing,’” she said.

Brian Dodd, manager of the House of Hope emergency shelter, explained that the intake process for the shelter is extensive. People are turned away, he said, around a dozen people a week who don’t have direct connections or roots in the community. “The average age of our guests is in their 50s,” Dodd said. “The majority of our guests were born and raised in this community.”

How is the need in Hope established?

The need in the community was captured by the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) 2020 homeless count, which counted 69 people homeless in Hope and Boston Bar. The survey found, across the FVRD, that 49 per cent of those living homeless had been in the region for over 11 years.

“So already we’re beyond those 52 units,” Tick said. In addition to these numbers, Tick said BC Housing works with local partners like Fraser Health and HATS to narrow down the appropriate building size.

Some have questioned why HATS conducted the homeless count in Hope, something Dyble addressed directly at the hearings. “In every single community you will find that it is typically those who are working with the homeless population who are doing the homeless counts,” she said. The homeless count document lists the various community organizations involved in the count.

“If folks are not feeling confident that we have actually counted 69 people, and we know that a point in time count is always four times lower typically than what the number is in the community, then we can certainly have a conversation about what our case files look like.”

Tick urged people not to include the 20 existing shelter beds when considering how much housing was available for people facing homelessness. “Yes there are existing shelter beds in Hope, but shelter is not housing,” he said. “The idea is to move people from shelter into housing, because again, shelter is not housing.”

Why 52 units?

The number of units in the proposed development – 52 – was arrived at both by looking at the need that exists in the community, the lot size and the building expense.

Development manager Patryk Piaseczny said this number of units would meet the needs in the community and be economically beneficial. “It was a win-win situation for us, where we’re going to be building units at a lower cost base plus providing more housing to meet the demands of the community,” he said.

Housing seniors

In a response to a question from Mayor Peter Robb about seniors facing homelessness, Tick said around one third of those counted are over the age of 50.

In the Eastern Fraser Valley, which includes Kent, Harrison, Hope and Boston Bar, 45 per cent of those surveyed in the 2020 homeless count were over the age of 50, this was an increase from 29 per cent in 2017.

“Folks that are living rough outdoors are often much older than their chronological age, because they suffer from a lot more health challenges, the don’t connect as well to primary care services,” Tick explained. “So, we can say somebody who’s 55 is a senior when in reality somebody who’s perhaps 30, who has been living outside for a long time, really has the same health challenges as somebody who is 55 in the general population.”

How will business concerns be addressed?

Councillor Bob Erickson stated his concern about the situation with supportive housing in Chilliwack, referencing conversations he has had with local businesses and issues with people “wandering around all day” and throwing garbage, a large cost to the district.

Brunemeyer countered that it isn’t the residents creating these issues, rather its those people who still don’t have housing. “So we are actually on our third project there, which is being supported by the City of Chilliwack,” she said.

How the development would communicate with the business community would include a good neighbour agreement, Brunemeyer said, as well as involving more businesses on the community advisory committee.

The committee, which has been meeting monthly since 2018, includes representatives from the district, RCMP, health and mental health, HATS, Chawathil First Nation, local business and residents.

Why the 650 Old Hope Princeton Way location?

“To really solve these people’s problems, which we all want to do, you need all three – you need housing, you need a job and you need psychiatric and drug rehabilitation care,” said Erickson, expressing concern that Hope has neither full time psychiatric care or drug rehabilitation. He asked why other parcels of land hadn’t been looked at.

Piaseczny said this was a property BC Housing identified and decided to pursue. Tick added that the concept is “housing first, but it is certainly not housing only.” A critical part of the Housing First concept – which involves rapidly moving people from shelters or from the streets into stable, long-term housing with supports – is that people need to connect with services once they are housed and location becomes very important.

“If we’re talking about a large, rural, remote property that’s away from services with poor transportation networks, the reality is it gets very difficult to connect folks to the services they need. And a lot of folks will actually choose not to live there,” Tick said.

What is the impact on policing and other emergency services?

In response to a question from Mayor Robb, Brunemeyer said there is usually an increase in emergency calls –which could be fire, ambulance or police – in the first three months of operations, followed by a big decrease.

“That’s not necessarily a crime spike, it’s just a call to police spike,” she said. “We don’t see a crime spike associated with it. Then we see a big decrease.”

The initial increase in calls includes calls to ambulance Brunemeyer said, as “some of these folks who have not had their health concerns met for a long time, certainly are producing some ambulance calls when they’re first brought indoors and having some other healthcare concerns.”

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The 650 Old Hope Princeton Way lot where BC Housing wants to construct 52 units of supportive housing. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)

The 650 Old Hope Princeton Way lot where BC Housing wants to construct 52 units of supportive housing. (Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard)