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Courtenay council wants regional district to reopen homeless shelter site search

Courtenay council will ask the regional district to reopen the search for a site upon which to build a homeless shelter or supportive housing.

Picking up where they left off July 18 when three councillors walked out of the meeting, council debated a motion by Coun. Murray Presley to ask the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) to reopen the search for a "more suitable" site than the one purchased on Cliffe Avenue while affirming its support for assisting the homeless Tuesday.

Not all councillors were present July 18, and the motion didn't get far when three councillors walked out of the meeting. This time, everyone was present, and Presley's motion passed.

Couns. Presley, Larry Jangula, Manno Theos and Jon Ambler voted to ask the CVRD to reopen the site search, while Couns. Doug Hillian and Ronna-Rae Leonard and Mayor Greg Phelps voted against it.

"This is not a case of opposing assistance to the homeless," said Presley. "We all three councillors fully supported a $500,000-commitment through the CVRD to fund assistance to the homeless.

"Unfortunately, the main issue has been the site chosen by the CVRD, a site opposed by the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce and an 1,100-signature petition. The request of my motion to reconsider the site and see if a better alternate site could be found became more reasonable for several reasons."

Presley emphasized that his motion is not meant to delay providing housing for the homeless.

But delay was exactly what Hillian was concerned about.

"It has been a long time that this issue has been on the local agenda without significant action," he said. "We have an opportunity now to take one step, which is to provide a shelter facility that will be located close to the services downtown and can in fact be designed with the involvement of people in the local community to mitigate the concerns."

Ambler noted that as a military leader, he was trained to avoid second-guessing decisions, but he felt that in this case, there was a lot of new information worth considering.

"We have learned plenty, enough in my mind to make us consider, as we are doing today, re-examining a single element of that project," he said. "Many citizens and organizations have expressed their concern about this site while many others have expressed their support for it. We have learned enough in the past year and a half in my mind to let us consider re-examining the decision."

Ambler felt it was key that Presley's motion contained the formal statement confirming Courtenay's commitment to the project.

"Publicly reaffirming our commitment to taking effective action to ease the homeless problem while referring to the CVRD the specific concerns of our citizens with the selected site is what we need to do," he said. "I don't think we can afford to do something and then have it fail. I think as an elected representative, when so many people come forward from the full spectrum with their concerns about this site, I don't think I can sit and ignore them."

Leonard was also worried about delaying the process.

"When we went into this process, I didn't think building a shelter was the best first step, but I was told categorically by a whole host of organizations that work with the homeless that whatever we do, because our need is so great in this community, any step is the right step," she said. "This motion will go back to the CVRD and in all likelihood will come back to us, and we will be no further ahead.

"We have committed to this. If we don't move forward now, we will be behind yet again, we will be behind, we will be showing once again to the province that we can't work together, that we can't find a way to move forward."

Jangula took exception to comments that the City's been dragging its feet, as he felt Courtenay has been a leader in this issue, and he was concerned that no one knows exactly what is being planned for the site, and no one has talked to  homeless people and asked them what they want.

Theos advocated for providing housing first.

"An emergency shelter, in my opinion, is a Band-Aid solution that currently already exists in our community," he said. "My belief is our community needs permanent social housing with supportive services. This will have a real, lasting impact on people living on our streets or who are economically at risk."

Hillian felt the need for a shelter has been established in the community.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if our senior governments made the investment into social housing now that would mean we didn't need a facility like this, but we do," he said. "We need it for those people who are temporarily in this position, and we need it so we don't have people dying on the streets, which is what has happened when people had nowhere to go when they were sick and homeless."

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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