Province buys Kamloops motel; ASK Wellness will manage it as affordable housing

Eleni Hirt still gets emotional about her first meeting with the health worker who helped her secure a room at the Fountain Motel last winter.

"She came in like an angel and I felt like a little puppy on the ground," she said. "I was rescued. They rescued me."

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When Hirt was released from Royal Inland Hospital last winter, she was coming off a difficult time.

After a pair of rapid moves to leave bad living situations, she became sick -- a combination of stress and pre-existing health issues. With no family in the city, where to go next could have been a daunting question.

During her hospital stay, Hirt had been identified by health workers as someone who might benefit from a relatively new partnership between the Interior Health Authority and the ASK Wellness Centre.

The program would give Hirt health navigators to help her set up appointments and ongoing care after she left RIH, as well as a room at the motel, just a few blocks from the hospital.

Hirt, who has heart issues and only one lung, said the four months she spent at the Fountain allowed her to regroup and get her life back on track. She now has a permanent apartment of her own.

"It changed my life," she said.

For the past two years, ASK has used rooms at the motel at 560 Columbia St. and at others downtown to provide shelter for people discharged from the hospital with nowhere to go.

On Nov. 1, the organization assumed operation of the entire Fountain property, where it will use 10 rooms for its recuperative care program. Another 14 rooms will be renovated into affordable rental properties for people ages 50 and over with chronic health issues.

The 14 rooms will require rezoning approval from Kamloops council. ASK hopes to secure the rezoning and have the units upgraded with improved kitchens by June.

The province spent $2.5 million to purchase and upgrade the motel.

ASK will operate the property.

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone said the housing project came together at unusual speed.

"Literally, it's gone in just a couple months from being an idea to being able to welcome people into these units," he said.

"It's light speed."

ASK Wellness executive director Bob Hughes said monthly rent for the motel's units will drop to about $450 from $700. Residents will also have access to community health and life skills programs.

"Interior Health and ASK have worked together well for a number of years already and I think this is just a culmination of that work," Hughes said.

© Kamloops This Week



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