Rod Graham of Horizon North, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson, Gaelene Askeland, executive director of the John Howard Society, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and Kelowna city Coun. Tracy Gray toss the first ceremonial first shovels of dirt marking the kick-off to construction of the Hearthstone supportive housing project on Commerce Avenue Friday. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Ground-breaking for modular housing for homeless in Kelowna

Construction of $8 million temporary supportive housing project kicks off

The province is ready to start building 46 units of modular housing in Kelowna to give homeless people a roof over their heads before the snow flies this winter.

On Friday, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson joined Mayor Colin Basran at a ground-breaking ceremony on the site of a planned new social support housing development in the city to be called Hearthstone.

The project, to be built at 1642 Commerce Ave., will provide its residents with 24/7 supportive care services and will take just five months to build.

“We understand that shelter providers in Kelowna are experiencing significant pressure from high-occupancy rates, and many of their clients are dealing with mental-heath and addiction issues,” said Robinson.

“These new homes will alleviate some of that pressure, and provide much-needed access to support programs that will help these people reclaim their lives.”

The John Howard Society will operate Hearthstone and because it is modular construction, it is expected to be ready by October.

Basran said he was happy to see the development, which was redesigned after its first version was presented to council and received lukewarm support because of its utilitarian look.

“This is an important step on our journey to address homelessness in Kelowna,” said Basran, adding the city has enjoyed a long and successful relationship with B.C. Housing that has resulted in several social housing developments in Kelowna over the years including the Cardington Apartments downtown and New Gate in Rutland.

In his remarks Friday, he acknowledged there were concerns from some of the site’s neighbouring businesses when the project was first announced.

But he said he hopes the coming experience with Hearthstone—slated to only be on the site for four years—will be a positive one and will help pave the way for similar developments in future in other parts of the city.

Basran said one of the lessons learned from the controversial creation of the 80-bed emergency Cornerstone shelter on Leon Avenue downtown last year was that new supportive housing projects should be smaller in size and located across the city, not just in one area. But, while Cornerstone is a shelter, Robinson was quick to point out Hearthstone will be homes.

Hearthstone will provide its residents—who will be vetted before being given homes in the development—access to round-the-clock, on-site staff, and support services including meals, life and employment skills training, health and wellness support services and opportunities for volunteer work.

Robinson said the aim is to help the residents find long-term housing in the community.

There is an estimated 350 homeless people in Kelowna, and the mayor said the city is currently in negotiations with B.C. Housing for creation of 136 more units of support housing in several locations.

On Friday, B.C. Housing announced it recently purchased property for a second proposed supportive housing project in Kelowna at 2025 Agassiz Rd. It has also announced similar projects in Vernon and Penticton.

The Commercial Avenue project will cost $8 million and is part of a larger push by the B.C.’s NDP government to address the need for temporary supportive housing across the province. The government says it is investing $291 million to build 2,000 homes in B.C.

Robinson said cities and towns, including Kelowna, have been very supportive of the program.

“They have been begging for help for years,” said Robinson. “And, frankly, the former (Liberal) government didn’t hear.”

The use of modular construction is part of what the minister described as her government’s “fast response” to the need.

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