Work is finally getting underway today to prepare for the new modular shelter at Howard House in Vernon.
It was supposed to begin in March, but had been delayed for various reasons.
John Howard Society co-executive director Kelly Fehr says the foundation will begin to be laid today and the shelter should open in August.
“The shelter is actually already constructed. I believe it’s in Chilliwack and it’s just a matter of being transported. Because, it’s a modular it’ll go up quite quickly. We are just working towards putting the water lines, sewer and foundation etcetera in.”
It will have 46 beds compared with 24 in the current building.
The complex will also come with a couple of firsts for shelters in Vernon, including wheelchair access.
“It’s been quite devastating not having wheelchair accessibility for shelters ever in Vernon. So this will be the first time. We’ll also be pet friendly and that’s been somewhat of a deterrent for someone that’s had a pet for years and has lost their housing to just give that up.”
The shelter is also going to be co-ed so that homeless couples can be together.
“When you’ve been with someone for a long time, as anyone can imagine, having to go to a shelter and be separated on different floors, and not even during the day being able to be with each other, that’s a challenge and that’s a deterrent to coming into the shelters.”
Fehr says the John Howard Society is also investigating setting up an overdose prevention site.
He says over the past half a year there has been an average of seven overdoses a month in shelters.
Interior Health and BC Housing have created Best Practices and those are being done.
“So we are looking at ways that we can reduce the number of overdoses in the shelters, reduce the number of needles that are discarded around shelters and around the community, and just reduce people using in isolation, and really just bringing honesty and openness.”
Fehr says that will help staff work with residents on how to use more safely or on recovery options.
The shelter is going up in what is now the garden of the current Howard House on 43rd Street.
It will include a large amount of storage space for residents, something many do not have now.
When the shelter opens, the downstairs area of Howard House where the current shelter beds are located, will close.
When the new supportive housing apartment building that is planned for the corner of 27th Avenue and 35th Street opens, tentatively in November, transitional housing clients from Howard House will be moved to there.
The Society will then work to decommission the old building entirely.
Fehr says it’s very old and has served its purpose for many years and it’s time to put it to rest.