Homelessness forum planned in Hope

Public input sought on how best to meet housing needs in the community

Hope & Area Transition Society (HATS) is seeking public input on how best to address the housing needs for vulnerable populations living in Hope.

The first of three community forums will be held on Dec. 4, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Blue Moose Coffee House. The event provides an opportunity for people to share their ideas on the current housing needs in the community and how best to meet them.

“It’s hearing from the community – how they perceive the issue of homelessness in their community, what they think the community has to offer already, and what gaps are in the community,” said event organizer Jennifer Hawkins. “Hope is way ahead of the game in terms of what we already have and the goodwill of the population and their willingness to work together. What we have at the Thunderbird is a really good start and it really positions Hope to be an example of best practice for rural communities in addressing homelessness.”

Hawkins was recently hired by HATS to conduct a community collaboration and readiness assessment, which includes coordinating a housing task force, doing community research and conducting stakeholder interviews. Public input will be integrated into the assessment, which will make recommendations on program design and implementation.

The 2014 Fraser Valley Regional District homeless count report has not yet been released. However, Hope had approximately two per cent of the FVRD population in 2011 and 12 per cent of the homeless population. In comparison, Abbotsford had 45 per cent of the FVRD population and 34 per cent of the homeless population. Hope had a higher percentage differential than its neighbouring communities, with Chilliwack reporting seven per cent and Agassiz-Harrison 2.5 per cent.

In March, the provincial and federal governments committed to investing $300 million over five years to help individuals and families access affordable housing. In response, HATS launched a housing task force in partnership with a number of community organizations including Fraser Health Authority, RCMP, Hope Community Services, Tillicum Centre, Joan Greenwood Place, Read Right Society, Ministry of Children and Family Development, and Trails Crossing Friendship Centre.

Over the last several years, HATS has attempted to purchase the Thunderbird Motel Project property but the owner declined. As a result, the task force is now pursuing a new facility using the Housing First model, which is recovery-oriented approach that centres on moving people into independent and permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed.

“The goal of the task force is to really provide input into the concept and design. It’s a process of collaboration,” said HATS executive director Gerry Dyble. “We want to design something that meets the needs of our community, not just a cookie cutter approach.”

The current HATS office would be relocated in order to provide addiction services, counseling programs, homeless outreach and the emergency shelter on one site. Dyble said clients are more willing to access services if they’re all in the same location.

“We would have a continuum of housing options in our community,” she added. “We would be supporting the low-barrier chronically homeless and we would be supporting those individuals who are making changes and addressing their social and emotional issues.”

For more information on HATS or the community forums, visit hopetransition.org or call 604-869-5111.