Finally, Tom McMahon has an answer for homeless clients who ask when Chilliwack's much-talked-about Health Contact Centre will finally be open.
For years, McMahon, an outreach worker with Fraser Health, has fielded questions from clients asking just when, exactly, the centre would begin taking in homeless, mentally ill and drug addicted patients. But as organizers hammered out the details over the past four years, McMahon could only respond that "It's going to happen; we just don't know when."
He now has a more satisfying answer.
On Friday, politicians, health officials, local stakeholders, community organizers and government functionaries gathered to celebrate the start of a renovation project and the imminent opening this summer of the contact centre.
The event was held in a chilly tent that, for Lee-Anne Hansen, only served to remind her of the desperated need for the new facility.
"I was just thinking about the 111 homeless people," Hansen, the centre's future manager said. "To be homeless and to be out in this kind
of weather is unbelievably tragic to me. And to think that we have a centre that is going to answer them not only [with a variety of] services . . . but a warm place to go to, I think that is absolutely amazing."
The health contact centre is billed as a one-stop shop for care for homeless, mentally ill and addicted people. It will include 22 supportive housing apartments, along with a broad range of health and community support services.
Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS) will manage the housing component and jointly deliver the services with Fraser Health. The provincial government is contributing nearly $3.4 million for the building's renovations, along with about $230,000 to operate the facility's residential side. Funding also came from the City of Chilliwack, PCRS, the Real Estate Foundation of B.C. and Fraser Health.
"They say it takes a village," Hansen said during her remarks. "I say it takes a city with a heart and Chilliwack is a city with a heart."
Mayor Sharon Gaetz echoed the sentiment.
"I'm just so proud of our town for coming together," she said. "Everyone has been asking me in the city, 'When is it going to happen?' and this day is to signal it starts today."
Andy Libbiter, Fraser Health's acting executive director for mental health and substance use, said the contact centre will provide much-needed help to Chilliwack's most vulnerable.
"As health-care providers, we know that we must not only offer a roof over their heads, but also offer care and supports in settings where they feel safe and comfortable," he said. "The Chilliwack Contact Centre is an excellent example of just that."
McMahon agreed and he has a "lineup" of clients just waiting to take advantage of the contact centre's resources.
"It's going to be a place for people to be able to set up new roots," he said. "They're going to be in recovery; they're going to have a roof over their head. It makes it easier, if you have a roof over your head, to change your life.'"