(Above) From left, Byron Stewart, city councillor; Mayor Lilia Hansen; Gord Klassen, city councillor; Lor Ackerman, former mayor; Star Acko, councillor, Doig River First Nation; Trevor Makadahay, chief, Doig River First Nation; David Sheach, BC Housing; Brittany Robertson, councillor, Doig River First Nation; Gary Oker, councillor, Doig River First Nation; Mjr Sheldon Feener, AC and DSPR, B.C. Div; and Jared Braun
Through a partnership with BC Housing, The Salvation Army in Fort St. John, B.C., has opened a new supportive housing complex, creating a long-term solution for those experiencing homelessness. Construction began in November 2021 and was completed one year later, with a grand opening at the beginning of November 2022.
Previous projects between the Fort St. John Salvation Army and BC Housing include renovating a hotel to become the Northern Centre of Hope, which houses the emergency shelter, a low-barrier housing program and transitional housing program. The Centre of Hope has been in operation since 2014, covering the immediate need for housing in the community, but leaving a gap for longer-term stable housing for those looking to transition out of these programs.
A homeless count from 2018 identified more than 70 people in Fort St. John who were homeless with few solutions to address the problem. “Even in my two years here I have seen the need increase,” says Jared Braun, executive director of the Northern Centre of Hope. “The pandemic, national economics and the compounding factors of mental-health challenges and addictions contribute to increasing homelessness.
“These are people who don’t have anywhere else to go. For many, a shelter is not a conducive place to be, with anywhere from four to eight people to a room in bunk beds, using one bathroom. Our emergency shelter is meant to be short-term and temporary,” Braun continues. “But it was the only option in Fort St. John. So, this new supportive housing will alleviate the strain on the shelter. And for those who feel pushed to be outside because they don’t want to be in the shelter, now they will have their own space.”
This new supportive housing complex is only the second ministry unit in the Canadaand Bermuda Territory to provide this model of housing, next to the Ches Penney Centre of Hope in St. John’s, N.L. In 2022, The Salvation Army published a new operating policy to respond to these gaps in housing systems by implementing supportive housing that not only meets the basic need for accommodation, but creates a sense of home. To read more about this policy, visit https://salvationist.ca/articles/from-shelter-to-home/.
The Fort St. John facility offers 42 self-contained suites, including three wheelchair accessible units, each with its own washroom, kitchenette, furniture and access to a common dining hall and lounge. A commercial kitchen provides two meals a day and free on-site laundry services are also available.
“We hope that all of these things will give a sense of home, belonging and stability for these people that have been floating in and out of our shelter services,” says Braun.
Inside the supportive housing complex, tenants can also access personal support from caseworkers who will get to know each tenant and help them work toward their goals, provide mental-health support, job support and medical connections.
Another unique aspect of the facility is that there is no maximum length of time that a tenant is allowed to stay and access services. “If somebody comes in and wants to retire here, they can,” says Braun. Tenants pay rent geared to income, including government subsidized social assistance, making this an affordable solution to long-term housing needs.
“We aim to do everything we can to avoid eviction or restriction, and to provide this low barrier housing while keeping safety, security and health top of mind,” says Braun. “Thank you to the Army for the support that we’ve received. To see the resources that are available to us to step into new initiatives like this is really inspiring. I think people can be encouraged by this.”
Photos: Courtesy of BC Housing