Housing project aimed at downtown homeless

Officials from BC Housing and the City of Prince George shed more light Wednesday on a plan to build housing for the homeless and people living on low-to-moderate incomes on the edge of the city's downtown.

First announced in August, the projects are planned for 805 First Ave., the current home of NR Motors. The City will be purchasing the site - with the price to be disclosed once the transaction has gone through - and BC Housing is to lead the construction of 50 units of supportive housing and one holding 50 units of rental homes for low-income people.

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The buildings will also include groun- floor healthcare services, ranging from primary care to harm reduction to specialized mental health and substance use services.

In a meeting with local media, held prior to a community information meeting at the Civic Centre, City manager Kathleen Soltis said they were looking for a site large enough to accommodate all those needs and in a location that people who need the help can reach.

"It's not smack in the midst of businesses as some of the health services now are," Soltis said. "And in addition to that, it's going to be a lovely site...it will be a nice building, it will be well maintained and it's going to have lovely landscaping, so it is going to be a very good place for people to live at and access the services they need."

BC Housing regional director Malachy Tohill said getting people living on the fringe into safe and stable housing is a "first step for people to be able to move on to a better quality of life, to be able to access the other supports."

The project will have an "impact on the streets," he said.

Teaching basic life skills will be among the services.

"Each unit will have its own self-contained kitchenette too and one thing that we've found in the past is that the one they don't know how to do is to cook and start taking care of themselves," Tohill said.

"So we'll have a meal program, where we'll supply two meals a day, and also help them learn about cooking and those other things that will help support them and move forward in life."

As to who will be accepted, Tohill said a committee will consider candidates with an aim at getting those with the biggest needs off the street.

"However, you do need a mix in there, so that you don't have 50 people in there with hard-core mental-health and addiction issues," he said. "Some will have lesser issues, some will have more issues, but we want to have the right mix to make it a good community environment."

On the health services, Northern Health spokesperson Steve Raper said the agency is looking at how it can "co-locate into an integrated model," and indicated the needle exchange will be moved to the spot.

"We'll include harm reduction, but it'll also include primary care and things of that nature," Raper said.

The projects remain subject to the property rezoning process which includes a public hearing before city council. Cost

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