September 30, 2016 - 8:00 PM
VERNON - A lot of changes are taking place at an old motel downtown Vernon.
The pool has been filled with dirt and turned into a communal garden. There aren’t as many cars in the parking lot, because most of the tenants don’t have vehicles. The lobby leads to a shared kitchen space where residents can enjoy meals together, and make their grocery money stretch by cooking in bulk.
Formerly known as the Journey Inn, the large, light blue building on 28 Avenue has been reinvented as a 39-unit affordable housing complex, owned by B.C. Housing and operated by the John Howard Society of the North Okanagan.
Renovations are still underway, but the first few tenants have been moving in as space becomes available, apartment manager Shelley Kiefiuk says.
“They are ecstatic,” she says of the new residents.
Many have not had secure housing for years, living on and off the streets, in tents or in their cars.
“I have one fellow I’m waiting to get in here, he’s been street entrenched for half his life,” she says. “The words he was using when he was here, I’ve never heard before. ‘It’s like a rebirth’ is how he described it.”
Rent at Blair Apartments is about half the price of most units on the market, at $475 a month for a bachelor suite and $525 for a one bedroom unit.
The demand is evident by the steady stream of people knocking on Kiefiuk’s door inquiring about vacancies. Roughly 150 people have already put in applications for one of the 39 units.
“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Kiefiuk says, adding much more affordable housing is needed in the city.
Blair Apartments gives tenants independence and a space to call their own while also offering continued support. Kiefiuk is always on hand to support residents, and the society runs programs to help them overcome social isolation and other challenges.
With some residents in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions, Kiefiuk also plays a role helping them stay on course.
“They may be doing just fine on their own, but it’s the people who will seek them out and find them. These people were their friends, their family in some cases. Now they have to try and separate themselves,” she says. “I had one fellow here, he wouldn’t turn them away, but he knows I’ll do it for him.”
That’s the unique aspect of Blair Apartments; it’s not just low-income housing, it’s supportive.
Some of the best moments, Kiefiuk says, are when residents first walk into their units and look around. She remembers one man in particular.
“He is just beside himself. He said, ‘my own bathroom.’ He was so happy he had his own bathroom. It’s the little things you don’t think of,” Kiefiuk says.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016