There is currently no independent living housing for adults with developmental disabilities in Hope.
But that could soon change as both Fraser Inclusive and Supportive Housing Society (FISH) and Anhart Community Housing Society (ACHS) are looking to create a 14-unit building on Hudson Bay Street near 5th Ave.
FISH and the ACHS are looking to create independent living housing for adults with developmental disabilities. The concept was originally developed by FISH who first presented their plan to council in March 2021 which was met with approval from a majority of councillors. FISH is a charity organization dedicated to providing “supportive, safe and affordable housing for adults with developmental disabilities.” Run by volunteers passionate about this project, many in the group are caretakers to adults with cognitive and physical disabilities.
“We started looking at what we could do about it in the way of building an apartment building that would be able to house some of these people and it would be a safe and affordable place to live,” says Garry Vath, president of FISH. “We met for a couple of years, just trying to figure some things out and then, a couple of years ago, we got a call that somebody in Hope was looking to donate a piece of residential property for a good cause.”
The property was donated by Olga Kwas, a longtime resident of Hope, who currently lives in Agassiz. Thanks to her donation, FISH was able to start actualizing their plans. They then teamed up with ACHS, a Canadian charity dedicated to providing affordable housing to low income Canadians. ACHS, who built the Ryder project in spring 2020, will be responsible for the construction of the building.
“It’s possible that we will need to build this in a way where we work with foundations and local groups that believe in this project and are willing to give us funds,” says Crystal Wiebe, ACHS’s chief financial officer and treasurer. “We’ve got [the project] going through rezoning right now and we’re very optimistic about it.”
Vath, who is the father of two adults with cognitive and physical disabilities, says he realized there was a need for this type of housing while picking up his son from Tillicum Center’s Adult Support Day Program, four years ago. He noticed that many of the caretakers for the adults were in their late 60s and he began to worry about the future when they could no longer look after everyone.
Part of the problem, Vath says, is that housing for adults with developmental disabilities is very limited and the type of housing currently available rarely fosters independent living. Many of these individuals live with caretakers, usually their parents, and develop a supportive structure around this living situation. However, because of the limitations of current housing solutions, they are usually sent to live outside their community, and away from the supportive structures once their caretakers pass on. For many this can be quite traumatic. And, again, it denies agency and independence for individuals who don’t require or want this level of supervision.
“The government’s preferred direction for this in the last several years has been a home share where the person would be put to live in a home with another family or a couple… [and] they go wherever the government has a spot for them,” says Vath. “And that’s not needed for our son.”
Vath says that, so far, the community of Hope has responded positively towards the project. Currently, there are at least 100 signatures from people who support their work and he hopes this will continue well after the project’s completion.
Earlier in the year, a letter penned by Mayor Peter Robb said that “the FISH Society’s proposal to provide high-quality, accessible housing in our downtown core in close proximity to shopping, restaurants and other amenities, addresses the lack of affordable, independent housing options the District currently has for adults with developmental disabilities.”
Robb was recently reached again for comment but has yet to respond.
FISH, with the help of ACHS, has raised $50,000 and are currently looking into grants and fundraisers for the project’s future costs. The project is awaiting approval from council on rezoning three lots for construction. Two hearings have already taken place and a third hearing is scheduled for the end of September.