Smithers council made two crucial approvals last Tuesday for the planned 24-unit supportive housing project on Railway Avenue.
The housing complex is meant for homeless people and would include the Broadway Shelter, 24-hour staffing and support funded by the Province, and include needs assessments and case plans for each tenant. BC Housing would lease the property from the Town of Smithers, and Smithers Community Services Association (SCSA) would serve as a landlord and provide support services to residents, working with other organizations including Northern Health.
An open house last Monday saw about 70 people hear from homeless women from Smithers, a representative from Medicine Hat where the community has taken on the challenge of eliminating homelessness, and more.
Laura Alex gave her personal experience and explained to the crowd that most people do not understand how hard it is for her and others to find a home and gain more independence.
“No landlord will just drop down and say, ‘oh we’ll give you a place to rent,’ because of our problems with drugs and alcohol,” she said.
“We need the support to get a place so we can straighten out and make something better of ourselves. Everybody thinks it’s easy but it’s not. It’s really hard for us to go through this. And we’ve lost so many people to being homeless and their addictions, and we don’t want to see any more people from our crew — we don’t want to bury any more of them.”
“We don’t like walking around with backpacks on our back every fricking day just to make ends meet,” she explained.
Services that would be offered cover a wide range, everything from health care and mental health service to meals being provided. The goal is to build to a more independent life. Two units on the ground level would be fully accessible.
One concern that will be addressed in the design and permitting phase now will have to be pets, a very strong connection for many on the street — 22 people in Smithers alone at last count.
Lisa Glaim has two small dogs, Hannah and Booboo.
“I’ve been sleeping on the street because they can’t stay at the shelter,” said Glaim.
“I have a family but my family don’t love me because of who I am. I need to respond to that, but I’ve had my dogs … one’s 12 years old, the other one’s three years old turning four, and I need a home for them, too because I will not live without my dogs … They make me happy and I take care of them. They eat better than I do.”
While SCSA and BC Housing have yet to work out the pet question, they were able to provide other answers to neighbours and potential tenants.
There would be at least two regular staff always working. Security efforts in place would not include a security guard unless later deemed necessary, but cameras and behaviour agreements would be in place.
SCSA executive director Cathryn Olmstead said the behaviour agreements used at the Meadows have been “99 per cent successful.” She said safety for all was the number one priority, a concern that the neighbours who spoke at the open house and Tuesday’s public hearing at council seemed mostly satisfied would be mostly resolved.
Blair Wind lives close by on Columbia Street. He’s lived in the area for 30 years. He said he was concerned when he heard the project would consist of modular homes, picturing something akin to shipping containers. After seeing a sample design, he was satisfied.
His other main concern was foot traffic and intoxication in the alleys around his home.
“I’ve been in support of the project for a long time but I had a lot of reservations,” said Wind.
“Many of my concerns were addressed by the presenters, speakers and fellow citizens [at Monday’s meeting], and most of them have been allayed. There was a lot of misconception there.”
Christopher Blois lives a few doors down on Alfred Avenue.
“I am really excited to hear there is a project out there that is going to give supportive housing for my neighbours. They’re not ‘these people,’ I want to make sure everyone knows they’re my neighbours and they need houses,” he said at Tuesday’s public hearing.
Emily Bulmer was another Smithers resident who voiced her support succinctly Tuesday after giving her experience working with people who needed homes years ago.
“It kind of catches me when we’re talking about people who are homeless because they’re not homeless, Smithers is their home. They’re houseless, so let’s build some houses,” she said.
Council unanimously passed adoption of a change to the official community plan and the creation of a new Comprehensive Development Zone. The zone only applies to the property at 3896 Railway Avenue, located at the corner of Queen Street.
The Town bought the property a few years ago specifically because of its location close to downtown services with the idea of a supportive housing project in mind.
Regulations in the zone include a maximum height of the lesser of three storeys or 12 metres, up to 85 per cent of the parcel being covered by the building and other structures which includes a maximum of one auxiliary building up to 4.9 metres tall, and one parking spot at least for every three units.
The total cost has not been calculated, according to BC Housing representatives who attended a Monday open house. The B.C. government put out a media release saying it is investing $291 million to build 2,000 modular-housing units across the province and more than $170 million over three years to provide staffing and support services for the residents.
Seven other B.C. communities have included modular housing as part of a solution to help address homelessness, according to the Province. More than 1,000 modular-housing units are confirmed in communities throughout B.C., taking the Province past the halfway mark toward the goal of 2,000 units for people who are homeless or at risk.
Terrace is getting up to 52 units with close to $8 million allocated, and Prince Rupert is getting 44 units with about $3.6 million allocated.
Anyone wishing to comment on the project can send an email to email@example.com.
More information on supportive housing is available at bchousing.org.