Some local residents who don't currently have a permanent residence will soon have a place to call home, at least for a few months.
The provincial government, District of Squamish and the Squamish Helping Hands Society have partnered to create 49 new temporary homes for people who are homeless, or at risk of being so.
The repurposed modular units by Squamish company LandSea will be placed on District land at Xwu'nekw Park on Loggers Lane along the Mamquam Blind Channel between Victoria Street and Main Street. They will be available for folks to move in by mid-May.
"This housing is going to be a game-changer for the Squamish community and in particular our vulnerable citizens," Maureen Mackell, executive director of Squamish Helping Hands Society told The Chief.
There is more than enough need to fill the new homes, she said.
Mackell said she first thought having 49 units would be plenty, but added she already has a starter list of more than 50 people who may need to access the housing.
"Just who we can think of off the top of our heads and there is probably more who are going to come from other organizations," she said.
Before the pandemic, over the winter, the shelter had 20 to 25 people per night, which was up over years past, she said.
The pandemic, with its accompanying financial instability, has added to local numbers.
The units are akin to college dorm rooms, Mackell said.
Each has a small room with a bed, a desk, storage, a medicine cabinet and towel rack. Six three-piece bathrooms sit in the middle of the configuration and there's also a communal bathroom. These will be cleaned "incessantly," Mackell said.
Residents will be provided with two meals a day, delivered to their rooms, to ensure social distancing. There will be at least two staff on-site fulltime to offer assistance to residents, including access to addiction and mental health services.
The temporary housing is expected to remain in place until the end of October when the under-construction Under One Roof, the Squamish Helping Hands permanent housing development, is slated to open on Third Avenue.
Under One Roof will provide 45 permanent homes, including 15 units of low-barrier dormitory housing, 15 units of transitional housing and 15 affordable units.
"This is the first time we have been able to provide actual housing, albeit temporary, where folks can rest and come out of survival mode. It is a great bridge to the opening of Under One Roof where we will continue to support people toward independence and wellness. The pandemic has unveiled what has always been true about Squamish: it is a community with tremendous compassion and spirit."
Priority for this new temporary housing will be given to people who are living in the Budget Inn, which is set to be redeveloped, and those without secure housing, including those currently staying at the temporary shelter at the Howe Sound Secondary school's gym.
Mackell said the idea for the modular housing came out of discussions of what could be done to help people being displaced from Budget Inn, which had been an affordable downtown Squamish housing option for years, but is set for demolition.
Mackell stressed how well everyone has been collaborating. Organizations such as BC Housing, the Howe Sound Women's Centre, Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Housing, Sea to Sky Community Services, the District and the Food Bank, have all been working together, she said.
The province is providing approximately $325,000 to lease the modular units, as well as operating funding of more than $152,000.
BC Housing will work with Helping Hands to develop the operating model, a release states.
The District is providing the land for this project.
"In the face of this global pandemic, we must ensure that everyone in our community can safely distance themselves from others in order to protect themselves and the broader community, and help stop the spread of COVID-19," said Mayor Karen Elliott, in the release "I am very grateful for the quick action of everyone involved to make this project happen. This project will ensure that there are no barriers for residents to access shelter and space to physically distance during COVID-19."
The provincial government has also secured a total of 18 rooms across two Squamish hotels that will be reserved for people who do not have a safe place to self-isolate during the pandemic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Mackell said when the message from the different health authorities was primarily "stay home," that landed like a lead balloon with the homeless population, she said.
Mackell said while the local homeless population hasn't had a confirmed case of COVID-19, following the orders to stay home, social distance and wash often, are hard when you don't have a home of your own.
"How do you "stay home," if you don't have one?"
Moving people to the Howe Sound Secondary gym temporarily last month was a positive step, but this gives people their own actual units to stay in.
"This is a much better solution," she said. "They each have their own room, they will have TV to entertain themselves and it really will encourage them to stay home."