Housing Hope Project

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More than 60 people showed up at the former Olive Devaud residence on Kemano Avenue last Wednesday evening to gather information and have their opinions heard concerning Housing Hope – a pilot project currently underway in the building.

The meeting was hosted by Housing Hope Project Manager, Kathleen O’Neil, and CaroleAnn Leishman, representing Sunset Home Society, owners of the facility. The meeting was held in the large community room of the Olive Devaud Residence. The women gave statistics and facts concerning homelessness in Powell River and laid out their fledgling plans for the building which include housing up to six men for a period of six months.

Powell River Educational Services initiated the new pilot project aimed at providing affordable housing for a small number of men. “Historically, the Olive Devaud Residence and land was gifted to the Sunset Home Society back in 1957,” explained CaroleAnn. “The Sunset Home Society basically ran the Olive Devaud Residence until 1998 when Vancouver Coastal Health took it over and ran it themselves. Once the Willingdon Creek Manor opened its doors, the property came back into the hands of the Society. We can either sell it and purchase another piece of property to develop low cost housing or we can use this building temporarily to see if we can help this project work.”

The Olive Devaud building costs approximately $114,000 per year to operate with hydro and heating costs, insurance fees and security, the crowd was told. All while sitting empty. “It makes sense to put people in the building,” Kathleen said. “We are heating it already and if there are homeless people in our community it stands to reason we should try to put a roof over their heads.”

Many people in Powell River struggle with low incomes and high rents, Kathleen said. Some families are currently paying more than 30% of their income on housing. Housing Hope Program intends to initially house six men, of all demographics, in one wing of the former senior care facility. Each small room has a bed, table and washroom facilities. “We are only looking at using one portion of the building right now,” Kathleen said. “We are trying to make it homey for the new residents.”

The building is also up for sale, so the project will have to be reevaluated after six months, or sooner, if the building is sold. “If we can find someone to sell it to, fabulous,” said CaroleAnn. “Sunset Homes would then look for another piece of property within the community to build low cost housing, as affordable housing for seniors is our mandate.”

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The women faced a tense crowd. Citing  worries about plummeting property taxes, increased traffic, possible drug use and violence, several people spoke of their fears for the neighbourhood. Others couldn’t get past what they saw as deceitful practices by those working to pull the project together.

“All of this stuff should have been brought up months ago so we could have given input then,” said one distraught neighbour. “That doesn’t even cut it,” said another.

“I apologize,” said CaroleAnn Leishman.

“That doesn’t help now,” was the testy reply.

Talking about social inclusion and innovative ways to help youth upgrade their skills, Kathleen and CaroleAnn deftly sidestepped the persistent comments from a few residents about the possible degradation of their neighbourhood.

Lyn Adamson, of Powell River Employment Programs, quelled some fears by pointing out that Powell River already supports affordable housing initiatives and residents. “You probably don’t even know where the houses are,” she said. “The residents integrate very well and their presence hasn’t affected property values. The big question here is, should this project go ahead, what system or mechanism could we use so we communicate better?”

Kathleen told the group that many people have stopped  by the Olive Devaud to lend their support, drop off much needed furniture, mattresses and linens. Many church groups, building supply stores and paint shops have lent a hand in fixing up the premises. “We have been giving tours and I think the neighbours that have dropped in can see we are very passionate about what we are doing. Basically we want to be good neighbours,” Kathleen said.

“Well, it would have been a common courtesy to let us know what you were doing ahead of time,” it was said again. “All of these people wouldn’t be here if they weren’t upset.”

Finally, a  woman stood up and said, “If a person has no roof over their head and no where to go, well, we shouldn’t be so doggone negative. It must be horrible when you don’t have anywhere to live.” The room resounded with most people clapping in support.

Addressing the issue of possible problems arising at the site, Kathleen said she now has an office in the building and looks forward to moving ahead with most neighbours on board. “We will monitor this project very carefully,” she said. “There will be no alcohol or drugs allowed on site, no games, no monkey business. I will be here from 9am – 5pm ensuring the rules are followed.”

One voice of support in the crowd called out for a regular meeting, a block party, so everyone can get together regularly and have input. “We can see what you’ve been doing and how it’s working out,” the woman said. “We could bring music next time,” Kathleen offered. “We want to be good neighbours. We’re not trying to hoist something on you, we are trying to shelter some vulnerable people.”

People stayed behind after the meeting to further conversations with Kathleen and CaroleAnn while others took the opportunity to tour the building. An announcement will be made in the New Year concerning the next get together for Housing Hope and friends.

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Mary and Bob Ford came out to lend support for the Housing Hope Project. “We have been married for 57 years,” Mary said. “For more than 30 of those years we worked with the Salvation Army and were stationed to Powell River more than a decade ago. We understand the need for housing in this community and totally support this project that will put roofs over the heads of some of our vulnerable community members. Once a person has stable housing they can then take a look at schooling or employment. It’s pretty hard to get ahead when you don’t have a place to call home.”

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