PHOTOS: Housing opens door to hope for Vernon’s homeless

Shelley Kiefiuk, Turning Points Collaborative Society executive director of housing, is eager to welcome people to their new home at The Crossings, opening in January, providing 52 homes for the homeless in Vernon. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)Shelley Kiefiuk, Turning Points Collaborative Society executive director of housing, is eager to welcome people to their new home at The Crossings, opening in January, providing 52 homes for the homeless in Vernon. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Each of the units has a special blanket on the bed, which local quilters made for each home. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)Each of the units has a special blanket on the bed, which local quilters made for each home. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernon mayor Victor Cumming tries out one of the beds at the new supportive housing building, The Crossings, ahead of residents moving in. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)Vernon mayor Victor Cumming tries out one of the beds at the new supportive housing building, The Crossings, ahead of residents moving in. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Turning Points Collaborative Society executive director of housing Shelley Kiefiuk shows off the kitchen in one of the new homes at The Crossings Dec. 22, 2022. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)Turning Points Collaborative Society executive director of housing Shelley Kiefiuk shows off the kitchen in one of the new homes at The Crossings Dec. 22, 2022. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Residence worker Leandra Armour and program coordinator Dani Scott are some of the staff on-site 24/7. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)Residence worker Leandra Armour and program coordinator Dani Scott are some of the staff on-site 24/7. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
The Crossings will provide meals for residents, if they choose, or they can cook in their own units. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)The Crossings will provide meals for residents, if they choose, or they can cook in their own units. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Turning Points Collaborative Society CEO Randene Wejr is excited to get more homeless people off the streets and into housing and services at The Crossings. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)Turning Points Collaborative Society CEO Randene Wejr is excited to get more homeless people off the streets and into housing and services at The Crossings. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
The Crossing is opening in January, providing 52 homes for the homeless in Vernon. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
The Crossings is opening in January, providing 52 homes for the homeless in Vernon. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)The Crossings is opening in January, providing 52 homes for the homeless in Vernon. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

From sleeping on the streets, in a shelter or living in a motel, to having their own place to call home, more than 50 people are crossing into a life-changing experience in Vernon.

The latest supportive housing building, called The Crossings, will open its 52 doors in January at the 35th Street facility.

Twinning the next door My Place, Vernon is setting a standard as an inclusive community looking after its most vulnerable residents.

For those experiencing or at risk of homelessness, having a home affords them hope.

“Everything changes when you have a place to call your own,” said Shelley Kiefiuk, TPCS executive director of housing.

Rent is $375 inclusive with two meals provided daily, or residents can cook for themselves in their furnished units.

Turning Points Collaborative Society (TPCS) is busy notifying those getting a new home in the four-floor, stacked modular building, which is also pet friendly.

“Some of the folks are still sleeping rough so it’s a matter of finding them,” said Kiefiuk.

Ground broke on the building in August 2021 but manpower struggles and supply issues delayed the project’s completion until now.

Still, the project is one other communities are looking to Vernon for in duplicating.

“Vernon is absolutely setting the standards,” said Kiefiuk.

TPCS executive director Randene Wejr says, “unfortunately” Vernon’s supportive housing situation is unique in B.C.

Premier David Eby recently mentioned Vernon as an exemplary community in his speech at the BC Housing conference.

Great successes have come from the existing My Place, and TPCS is looking forward to more with The Crossings.

“I’ll never forget those days where we were able to move people in,” said Kiefiuk. “Lots of emotions and happy tears.”

The building also has staff on site 24/7 to support residents.

“A transition like this can be very hard for a resident that’s coming from not having anything to having a door that locks behind them,” said Leandra Armour, TPCS residence worker. “We want to help. I’m working for them, this is their home.”

Building relationships and trust are key, according to Armour, who started working for TPCS after overcoming her own addiction.

One of the challenges staff face is belongings.

While some people come into the units with just the clothes on their backs and others have a few belongings, hoarding is one of the biggest challenges in helping people maintain their units.

Kiefiuk explains how while living on the streets, a lot of clothing and blankets are disposable.

Moving into a home, they often need help organizing their belongings and limiting over-accumulating.

“It’s a life skill. Now that you have a place you don’t need 18 sweaters, you can have three.”

Complete with washers and driers, The Crossings residents can also wash and retain items that might otherwise be disposed of, like blankets.

Speaking of blankets, each room has a special one created by local quilters who have adopted My Place and The Crossings and made one for each person.

While the new build makes a big dent in the need, it doesn’t fill it and Wejr said there will still be people sleeping on the streets once all the units are filled.

“The need for places like this and affordable housing is outpacing what we’re providing, unfortunately,” said Wejr. “And I don’t see that slowing that down anytime soon because of inflation and housing costs.”

The Willows, another 52-unit complex, is slated for construction in 2023 next to Our Place, where the old John Howard Society building was.

Local officials are pleased to see progress being made in looking after the community.

“This building will not only change the lives of its residents, but it will have a positive impact on the community as well,” said Harwinder Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee. “I have seen and heard the life-changing successes from this building’s neighbour, My Place, and I know The Crossings will provide much-needed shelter and care to those who need it most.”

The Crossings has 41 self-contained units, three one-bedroom suites for couples, four accessible and four adaptable units, a commercial kitchen and dining room, as well as laundry and storage space.

“This new supportive housing is critical for Vernon,” said mayor Victor Cumming. “Not only does it provide much-needed housing for people experiencing homelessness in our community, but also provides the vital, continuous wraparound services for individuals who have high personal needs. The success of My Place demonstrates that having the province fund this type of housing and critical support for residents of Vernon is good for the neighbourhood, the downtown and the city.”

My Place opened in 2019 and together the two buildings provide 104 homes with support for people in need.

“Now completed, the My Place supportive housing will offer people in Vernon important support services in a safe and secure environment, so they can focus on a pathway to healing and to hope,” said Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Housing. “Together with our many partners, we are taking bold steps to meet the housing and health-care needs of vulnerable people, where and when they need it.”

Operated by TPCS, staff on site will also help with skills training and access to work placement and health, mental health and addictions services.

“This completion couldn’t have come at a better time. We are in the depths of a housing crisis and there are just so many people in need of a full continuum of housing options,” said Wejr.

BC Housing provided approximately $14.6 million for the project and will provide approximately $1.2 million in annual operating funding.

READ MORE: Supportive housing gives former homeless Vernon couple hope

READ MORE: Warm meals feed Vernon’s homeless over holidays


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