CHILLIWACK (NEWS 1130) – As B.C. marks Homelessness Action Week, the fate of a shelter in downtown Chilliwack is up in the air.
City council is set to vote on the future of the facility on Tuesday night, but those who want it to close say it’s bringing drug deals, aggression toward students, and increasing crime too close to schools.
Chilliwack Middle School and Chilliwack Secondary School sit just east of the Portal. More than 3,700 people have signed a petition to have the shelter relocated.
The school district held a special meeting to debate whether or not to send a letter to council asking to have the shelter relocated.
“I personally witnessed drug deals outside 7-11 by people who came out of the Portal. Not all the people in the Portal should be there,” Trustee Darrell Ferguson said. “We must remember why we were elected, not to be social justice warriors, but to advance, nurture, and protect the wellbeing of students.”
“I have only compassionate concern for the people who use the portal and to be clear, I am not asking for it to be shut down I do believe it is only a matter of the wrong location,” he added.
Ferguson has been spending time talking to people outside the schools. He said he’s spoken with parents and students, including a group of 10 high school students recently.
“They all expressed concern about their safety in the area,” said Ferguson. “One girl would not wear earphones in the area out of fear of not hearing an attacker, one girl was propositioned and another was even chased down the street by a man with a stick during a school outing,” he says.
The motion failed four-to-three, with Trustee Willow Reichelt among those opposed.
“The problem did not start because of the Portal. The Portal has actually gotten more than 60 people into permanent housing and gotten more than 30 people into drug treatment,” she explained.
Reichelt said her son attended Chilliwack Middle School a few years ago, and that he remembers homelessness being present at that time. He added trustees have heard from staff that there are no additional problems on school grounds as a result of the shelter.
“I think what people are seeing is they’re seeing an increase in problems in an area, and they’re attributing it to the Portal, but the Portal is a response to the problems, not the other way around,” Reichelt added.
“The other thing I have a problem with is this idea that just seeing people who are in poverty is somehow damaging to students,” she said.
Meantime, Trustee Jared Mumford was also among those to oppose the motion.
“If this was a motion writing a letter to the city asking for RCMP foot patrols before and after school … I would be all on board. But that’s not what this motion is, it’s to specifically request that the city denies a permit to the Portal,” he said.
Mumford said the question is about whether or not the Portal is making things worse, but said he’s asked parents, principals, and staff, who all say there has not been an increase in instances of crime since the Portal opened.
As council gets set to discuss the issue, a group opposed to the Portal has promised to rally outside of city hall before council’s Tuesday vote.
Homelessness Action Week acknowledges the work of those trying to help people experiencing homelessness. It runs until Saturday.