Ruth & Naomi's Mission has shifted direction after being confronted by Chilliwack's high number of homeless women, executive director Bill Raddatz announced Thursday at a gathering attended by Premier Christy Clark.
Raddatz said the mission will soon begin admitting women to its 20bed upstairs transitional housing space. The men currently using a portion of the space will be moved to a recently bought house next door to the mission.
Ruth & Naomi's executive director Wayne Massey said that while most cities see larger numbers of homeless men than women, the mission has found a much higher demand for transitional housing from women.
"The majority of missions around the province run on a ratio of 75 per cent men, 25 per cent women," Massey told the Times. "But when we opened our doors here, it wasn't the men who wanted in, it was the women that wanted in, and we discovered that we could very easily take 20 women off the streets."
Those numbers are backed up by 2011's homeless count, which found that more women than men were homeless. Those numbers had risen substantially from three years prior.
Raddatz said many of the women are streetworkers who have moved from Vancouver.
He said the mission has received more than 60 applications from women who want transitional housing. He said the safety provided by the mission is one of the main draws.
He expects 20 women to be living in the mission by mid-February.
With Ruth & Naomi's now operating on a $900,000 yearly budget, chair Wayne Massey said the non-profit is "all grown up."
Massey said the organization had initially looked at acquiring the yellow Mercer House that currently sits in Rosedale on land owned by Tycrop. But they found that doing so would cost too much money.
So instead, they settled on the home next door.
The purchase of the adjacent Princess Avenue home will allow the women to have the upstairs to themselves without the intrusion of men. There will also be a family room for mothers to meet with their children not in their custody. Original plans had the men and women sleeping in bedrooms in separate areas of the upstairs but sharing a common area.
Premier Christy Clark attended Thursday's announcement flanked by BC Liberal candidates Laurie Throness and John Martin.
The Premier-whose government kicked in money to help fund the mission's transition house-praised the project in language befitting the faith-based mission.
"We see God's hands at work in so many places in Chilliwack," she said, "And we see it in particular here at this mission. And this is why the provincial government is so pleased to be financial supporters of what you're doing.
"The citizens who support your government through your tax dollars want to know that in a society as wealthy as this one, we do everything we can to support those of us in our community who are struggling, who might find themselves out of work, who may be struggling with addiction and mental illness and might have trouble finding a place.
"Reaching out a hand is what God calls on all of us to do," she said. "You make that very real everyday."
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