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New Saanich apartment block will be for homeless seniors

Homeless seniors will soon have a new environmentally friendly 45-suite apartment block called Cottage Grove in Saanich to call home. The new $6.
Cottage Grove-3.jpg
Plans for the $6.6-million Cottage Grove project on Quadra Street in Saanich include 45 apartments, a common kitchen and dining facilities, and an outdoor space with raised garden beds.

Homeless seniors will soon have a new environmentally friendly 45-suite apartment block called Cottage Grove in Saanich to call home.

The new $6.6-million development to be built on Quadra Street, just north of Tolmie Avenue, speaks to the growing need for housing for low-income seniors, said Kathy Stinson, the Cool Aid Society’s executive director.

“Forty-five apartments will not house all of the people who are homeless,” Stinson said.

“It is a good start on ending homelessness for seniors in our community and it’s the first of several apartment buildings we will construct towards this end.”

The Cool Aid Society said about half of the 375 people it houses in its 10 apartment buildings in Greater Victoria are 55 or older, while 15 per cent of people staying at its three emergency shelters — 260 people — were also 55 or older.

“Not only is ending homelessness the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do, because it’s more expensive to leave someone homeless on the street, or in shelters, than it is to provide them with a home and the supports they need to have a valued life in our community,” Stinson said.

On Tuesday, politicians and housing advocates stood in the overgrown grass of the property at 3207 Quadra St. — acquired by the Cool Aid Society from the estate of Herman Rebneris for just more than $1 million — to celebrate the project’s readiness.

Rebneris died Oct. 29, 2010, after a five-year fight with cancer. He was respected in the region for his tireless efforts to supply affordable housing for families and seniors.

The project is “shovel-ready” — site architectural and landscaping plans are complete and Saanich has approved the development permit — but no sod will be turned until the B.C. government kicks in its $4.8 million of the $6.6 million needed to start building, said Alan Rycroft, society spokesman.

Tony VanDeven, 59, who was homeless until the Cool Aid Society found him housing a few years ago, said projects like Cottage Grove are essential to giving homeless seniors the foundation they need.

The twice-divorced former tool- and die-maker found himself homeless after he fell into depression and addiction. Having housing not only gave him a roof over his head, but it gave him a sense of self worth, allowed him to make friends, find sobriety and focus on a new life.

VanDeven developed an interest in painting and now sells his works of art.

It’s a far cry from the days he contemplated crime.

“I didn’t care if I went to jail,” VanDeven said. “If I got away with the crime, then I’d have money to put a roof over my head. If I didn’t get away with the crime, I’d get three squares [meals] a day — that’s the way you look at it when you’re sleeping under a bridge.”

The Cottage Grove development has been identified by the Victoria Homelessness Coalition as a priority funding project and is before the province, Rycroft said.

The Cool Aid Society has raised $1.3 million toward the development and has another $500,000 to drum up.

Most of the residents will be seniors, typically living on income assistance and/or disability assistance and pensions.

Dean Strongitharm, of CitySpaces Consulting Ltd., said Rebneris held onto the property for many years, having envisioned a special project.

“In terms of his legacy, I think he would be very proud of what will be built here.”

The four-storey, 19,047-square-foot apartment building will feature a common kitchen with dining facilities, an outdoor space that includes raised gardens for tenants and be fully accessible, Strongitharm said.

Andrew Wynn-Williams, executive director of the Greater Victoria Collation to End Homelessness, said the development is financially viable, supported by the community, meets the needs of the community, and serves seniors outside of the downtown core.

The news conference on Tuesday also recognized Saanich council — which voted Monday night to provide an affordable housing grant of $112,000 to the Cottage Grove development — and introduced the society’s Help End Homelessness campaign.

The campaign aims to raise $5 million to leverage $45 million from the provincial government to build 360 apartments, including Cottage Grove’s 45 units, for the homeless.

Rob Reid, campaign chairman, said an “amazing team of community leaders” has been assembled to raise $5 million. “It’s all about community and making a difference on our streets,” Reid said.

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