Tamara Gorin (left)

Tamara Gorin (left)

Society out at Alouette Heights

New operator sought for supportive housing in Maple Ridge.

The Alouette Home Start Society wants out of managing the 45-unit supportive housing complex where street people go as a step towards getting their own place.

Home Start decided last month to end its contract with B.C. Housing to manage Alouette Heights. The latter is a building on Brown Avenue with 45 studio suites that opened in 2012.

People on case-management plans can live there as tenants, with support staff in the building 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It is sad, but it’s not going away,” said Candace Gordon, a board member.

Alouette Home Start Society campaigned for the building, which cost $9 million, paid for by B.C. Housing and built on a city-owned lot at 222nd Street.

“We established supportive housing in this community and that is a good thing. The building will exist long after I’m gone,” said Gordon, who’s been on the Alouette Home Start Society board since it formed in 2004 and is a former Maple Ridge city councillor.

The society also ran the Iron Horse Youth Safe House from 2005 until 2015, when it closed due to a lack of federal funding.

For now, the society will focus on transferring Alouette Heights to a new operator. But after that, it is possible the society could fold completely, Gordon said.

The intent is to keep Alouette Heights and its programs and staff working as normal, Gordon said.

B.C. Housing has already issued a request for bids inviting a non-profit society to take over operation of Alouette Heights.

B.C. Housing, the City of Maple Ridge and Fraser Health will review proposals and recommend an operator, one that could be in place by the new year.

“There will be no interruption to services for our tenants,” B.C. Housing said in a statement.

The board has recently lost three of its members, who took full-time jobs in the field. They resigned from the board in order to avoid any possible perception of conflict with their new positions, Gordon said, or because of having jobs too far from Maple Ridge.

“We don’t have the depth on our board to just manage it properly. This is part of the issue, that we’re down in numbers,” Gordon added.

Following the resignations, that left only three members on the board, including chair John Harvey, treasurer Sheila McLaughlin and Gordon, a director.

With a diminished board and increasing demands, the board voted to end the contract and have B.C. Housing start the process for a replacement.

The intent is that the five staff and homelessness outreach and prevention programs operating at Alouette Heights will continue under the new operator.

Tenants currently living there, using a portion of their income to pay rent, will stay, Gordon said.

Part of the reason for ending the operating agreement is the more challenging clientele now arriving at Alouette Heights, Harvey said.

Ten people have been placed there from the temporary homeless shelter in downtown Maple Ridge.

“It requires a lot more work and more effort and a lot more support to ensure those individuals will have successful experiences,” said Harvey.

With a reduced board, the remaining members didn’t feel they had enough oversight.

But Harvey said Alouette Heights has adapted over the years.

“So I believe that the program has done what it’s supposed to do.”

Gordon pointed out that Alouette Heights isn’t a low-barrier shelter, but instead supportive housing, where people have rights under the Residential Tenancy Act.

“There’s a lot of confusion and there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Gordon added.

Earlier this year, Coun. Gordy Robson said people were staying too long at Alouette Heights and not moving on to market housing as originally intended.

“It’s long overdue,” Robson said last week of the change.

“This is a huge step ahead for our community.”

Gordon acknowledged that some people may have mental health issues and are comfortable at Alouette Heights. But, “Most people have a desire to move out and be independent and live in a bit more space. I cannot imagine living in one room.”

As of last April, Alouette Heights has moved 74 people into permanent housing since opening in 2012. However, 16 of the 45 people living at Alouette Heights in April – almost a third – had been there since the first year.

Gordon said homelessness is getting worse.

“The current situation of housing costs in Metro Vancouver, they’re driving people out of being able to afford homes. Poverty plays a big issue in being able to be housed. It’s a critical issue.

“It’s not just an issue here in Maple Ridge. It’s definitely an issue in Metro Vancouver and in lot of other cities and towns, where the supply of affordable housing really has not kept up with what is needed in the country.”

Gordon said the society has been managed properly.

“We’re in good standing. We’re financially well managed. We were not pressured. It’s totally a discussion that we had.”

Although the society may or may not dissolve later,  “There’s still a need for an advocate, for a voice for making sure there’s housing for people who don’t have a lot of money.”