By John Cairns, The Battlefords News-Optimist, October 22, 2014 - - Almost a year after the sod was turned to officially begin construction on the project, new pocket housing units at 1322 - 103rd St. are now open.
The grand opening was held Friday with officials from the City, Province and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in attendance. Among the officials there was Mayor Ian Hamilton, Councillor Ray Fox, and Battlefords MLA Herb Cox. Also there was Sheldon Gattinger, president of the North Battleford Transitional Living Initiative, as well as Liane Dagenais of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The pocket housing features eight units. The aim is to house those at risk and those seeking to turn their lives around, including those with addictions issues, physical disabilities or mental health challenges.
The idea is for the tenants to rent the units for a short period of time, from six to 18 months in most cases, and then be in a position to move on to permanent housing.
The project got moving with financial commitments from the federal government through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Province of Saskatchewan through Sask. Housing. Their contribution was a combined $425,000 through the Investment in Affordable Housing 2011-14 agreement.
The City of North Battleford contributed the land and professional services, and financial assistance was also provided by Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs.
The announcement the pocket housing was going ahead was made two years ago and sod turning took place on a shivering -50 C afternoon last year.
Gattinger to reporters his reaction to seeing the finished project, was “excitement, joy, and also expectation to see people create new and prosperous and healthy and independent lives.”
The units themselves are “pocket suites” of 300 square feet apiece. The quarters are not large, but they are fully independent living units with a bedroom, a washroom, and living room and kitchen areas.
While it is independent living, it is also supportive living, said Gattinger.
“We engage the tenants as well — we know them, we visit them, we make sure they fulfill the transitional plan they lay forward.”
That includes making sure they are fulfilling such goals as getting an education, or entering the workforce.
“That’s how we partner with our tenants, to make sure they’re transitioning into their new lives they want to lead.”
So far one tenant has moved in and the expectation is all units will be filled. According to Gattinger, there have been over 30 applications so far. The qualifying process to select all the tenants for the units is still under way.
The process is meant to find tenants “who best exhibit the traits to lead productive transitional lives.”
That means finding clients who will be the best fit for the building. Those would include people who are most committed to turning their lives around, including those who have exited detox facilities or who have registered for school in the city or entered the workforce.
Gattinger told reporters their goal is to select tenants who are in the most positive position to do that. The building itself is drug and alcohol free in order to help clients escape environments where drugs and alcohol abuse has been a problem.
This is the second major announcement to address the homelessness issue this month. Earlier in October an announcement was made that the Lighthouse in Saskatoon would be opening a permanent homeless shelter on 102nd Street.
For Gattinger and his group, the effort has been a long one over several years.
“Along the way I got to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet, I got to engage with people I wouldn’t otherwise be able to engage with, and I owe a great debt of gratitude to the people who are gathered here today.”
Officials at the grand opening welcomed the new pocket housing units.
The housing will “make a difference in the lives of those who call them home,“ said Cox, representing Sask. Housing minister Donna Harpauer at the opening.
“There homes will not just be a place to live. These homes will allow the residents to share their lives and support one another, and they will provide refuge and safety for the residents. And they will be a place where they will build their hopes and dreams for the future.”
“It is a community initiative, and community did it,” said Hamilton, who paid tribute to the partnerships of those who came together to make the project happen.
There was also optimism expressed by many that a smooth launch of the pocket housing on103rd Street could lead to more units being built in the city. An adjoining lot is available for more pocket housing units to be built in the future.