The Boundary Emergency and Transition Housing Society (BETHS) is moving forward on a proposal to create a full-time winter shelter and homelessness hub in Grand Forks.
After the City of Grand Forks council announced two weeks ago that it would be supporting the project, more detail has emerged about the scope of the project and how it will move forward.
According to supervising coordinator Steve McGibbon, the group has found a location at 68th Avenue and Second Street. McGibbon said the spot is ideal for several reasons, including its proximity to existing services so as not to “migrate” people.
“It was process of elimination. We did not want to go too far away from the downtown core, to prevent the migration of people, and [this site] fit the bill, it is a little out of the way but not too far away, and close to amenities people need,” he said.
The new project, which McGibbon said should be termed a “homelessness centre” will provide shelter, but also provide a first point of entry for more services.
“The program will involve a permanent site for what we are calling a homelessness centre,” he said. “It is no longer just an emergency centre; it will now have a few starter apartments, have offices for people from mental health, addictions and other community partners. The buzzword that people have been using is ‘gateway,’ and it is a gateway to all other services already available in town.”
“It is more for dealing with homelessness not just homeless [people]. It is very cliché, but up until now we have been giving them fish, and now we want to teach them how to fish,” McGibbon added.
McGibbon said that after working with BC Housing (at this point, the main funder of the project) and gaining support from city council, BETHS is moving forward with talking to the neighbours and seeking community input. That will be happening in the weeks ahead.
From there, McGibbon said the project will, fingers crossed, move forward quickly.
“In a perfect world we will start construction in the spring and be ready for next November,” McGibbon said, noting that the centre will be a prefab building that will go up a lot faster than traditional construction. City staff are helping BETHS with looking at site zoning as part of their support, he said.
BETHS currently operates an extreme weather shelter which runs from November to March. This year for the first time they were able to expand their hours, open from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 a.m.for clients, rather than the 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. of past years thanks to funding from BC Housing. That additional funding is helping them work towards this new goal of a centre, McGibbon added.
If all goes as planned with the project, the shelter will be a round-the-clock winter shelter, with “indications” that it could move to a year-round shelter, he said.
Support from the city and council came after a tumultuous eviction notice, giving the group six months to leave its current location, which it shares with Whispers of Hope community kitchen. Both groups are looking at relocation by Feb. 10, but McGibbon is hopeful that will change.
“We are hoping to get an extension to finish out our season and get ready for the next building,” McGibbon said.
This process builds on years worth of work by BETHS , and has been something McGibbon said they have wanted to see since the inception of the society. He has been with BETHS for seven years.
“We had several phases. The first was any kind of shelter, which we did. Then it was extended hours, done, next would be a permanent building for the shelter and the addition of these starter apartments and the gateway part of it,” he said. “It has been a slow and steady build, with our community partners.”
A critical part of what made this go forward was the support of many community partners, McGibbon said, about 30 groups in total that are encompassed by the Boundary Interagency Group (BIG), which includes agencies from across a spectrum that work with homelessness and other trauma and health issues. This would not have been possible without “everyone rallying behind us,” he said. McGibbon also ackowledged the support of the city and BC Housing in this project.
McGibbon said BETHS is currently seeking letters of support from the community. Anyone interested in writing a letter can send it to PO Box 2194, Grand Forks, V0H 1H0, addressed to BETHS.