Regional district spurns another homeless motion from Courtenay

Regional District directors have again denied a request concerning homelessness from the City of Courtenay.

Last month, the CVRD board rejected a Courtenay motion to reopen a discussion about a proposed homeless shelter on Cliffe Avenue.

At committee of the whole proceedings Tuesday, directors defeated Courtenay's request for a public information meeting to identify community-driven solutions to the issues of homelessness and financial vulnerability in the Valley. The board did, however, approve a staff recommendation to direct about $14,000 from the Vancouver Island Health Authority to the Comox Valley housing task force, which was to meet for the first time Wednesday.

Courtenay director Manno Theos suggests the bigger picture concerns at-risk individuals — the unemployed, low-income seniors and those living in poverty or suffering mental health issues — who are not isolated to one municipality but living throughout the Valley. The CVRD, therefore, is the ideal place to initiate community dialogue.

"I'm saying a full community discussion is necessary, in my opinion," said Theos, who feels subsidized housing would encompass a greater number of people than a shelter.

He suggests the district, more so than Courtenay or Comox, contains land that could be put aside for purposes such as housing people in a subsidized manner.

Area B director Jim Gillis reminded the committee the CVRD purchased property in the 800 block of Cliffe Avenue in order to establish a shelter to deal with homelessness in downtown Courtenay. The challenge, he said, is to get the public's head around the issue, not to ship people to another area of the district.

"I believe there's going to be a resolution to this," Gillis said.

Comox director Paul Ives noted the mandate to acquire land for a shelter does not expand the function to include social planning issues. The task force could work on the latter.

The district is in discussion with BC Housing about the Request for Proposal process to find a shelter operator.

• • •

The committee supported a position paper from 12 coastal regional district chairs about improvements to coastal ferry service.

The paper follows a series of meetings and a review of BC Ferries governance and operations. The chairs, representing 66 per cent of B.C.'s population, believe objectives for a reliable ferry service with no financial risk or additional debt burden for taxpayers, as outlined by the Transportation Ministry in 2002, have not been met. They also believe the Coastal Ferry Act needs revising.

The group will meet with Premier Christy Clark and Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom — with whom they have already met — at the Union of BC Municipalities convention this month in Vancouver.

"We're basically looking for some solidarity," CVRD board chair Edwin Grieve said.

At a July meeting with Lekstrom, each chair communicated the impact of what they view as a "deteriorating coastal ferry service," the paper states.

BC Ferries Commissioner Gordon Macatee is scheduled to appear at the Oct. 18 COW meeting.

• • •

There were a total of 600,000 bus rides taken in the Valley in the 2009/'10 fiscal year, 100,000 more than the previous year, marking a 17 per cent increase in ridership throughout a service area extending from Oyster River in the north to the Buckley Bay/Fanny Bay area in the south, says district staff.

System expansion, promotion and an increased proportion of pre-paid fare products are some of the reasons the local transit system has experienced steady growth since 2004/'05.

The board approved a recommendation to alert the province and BC Transit about the district's concern about operation, maintenance and administrative costs.

• • •

It was a unique year in the Comox Valley with the second-highest snowpack on record and the highest-ever snowfall at Mount Washington, Stephen Watson of BC Hydro said.

He said the fall and winter forecast is "trending towards neutral," unlike the extreme dry or wet conditions in the last five years. The Tsolum River was close to flooding in the winter.

A record amount of water released meant plenty of quality days for kayakers in the spring and summer.

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