MERRITT, B.C. — Like any other community around the province, Merritt struggles with affordable housing, especially for those who are at risk of homelessness.
"Over the many years we've been in Merritt, we've recognized that there was a real desperate need for housing in the community," said executive director of ASK Wellness Bob Hughes. "What's amazing is, you'd think these small cities like Merritt or Grand Forks or 100 Mile wouldn't have problems with housing. But in fact, it's the polar opposite."
Hughes noted the vacancy rate in Merritt is extremely low, one of the lowest in the province. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation cites Merritt’s vacancy rate as 2.4%. That compares to 1.2% in Kamloops
It's why ASK Wellness — with the help of $6 million in funding from the province — is building a 30-unit complex to help house people.
"We put a lot of pressure on the previous government to invest in some affordable housing. What we noted is, there has not been an investment in Merritt in affordable housing since 1999, so it was definitely in need."
Mayor of Merritt Neil Menard said the homeless population, which sits at 26 according to the last homeless count, is growing.
"For some reason, and we can't figure out why, but different communities send people here," said Menard. "They get a one-way ticket to Merritt and we end up picking them up and looking after them. That's been happening quite a lot. There are people here that are struggling that need that. They're homeless and they need somewhere to go."
The building is expected to be complete in June, the first affordable housing development in Merritt for people at risk of being homeless. The building will also be the first passive house in North America, a modern type of home known for its energy efficiency.
"What that means is the building will have solar panels to support hot water and electricity," explained Hughes. "The insulation system and the construction itself will result in an incredibly well-insulated building that will allow us to use almost no power when it comes to heating."
Hughes hopes this will become the start of a new trend in supportive housing. He is also pushing for Interior Health to provide services for the people who will live here and others who remain on the street.
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