Comox Valley Regional District pauses VIHA funding

The regional district committee of the whole deferred Tuesday several recommendations concerning $300,000 in grant funding from the Vancouver Island Health Authority, provided for community capacity to address homeless issues and to support healthy communities. Staff recommendations include the following allocations:

• $50,000 to the Comox Valley housing task force towards continuing with terms of reference;

• $50,000 to the Village of Cumberland towards a healthier community partnership;

• $50,000 to the Town of Comox towards community walking programs;

• $6,000 to the Dawn to Dawn Society towards year-round recreation;

• $20,000 to the Wachiay Friendship Centre towards a youth suicide prevention program, in partnership with the school district.

Courtenay director Starr Winchester feels the Dawn to Dawn and Wachiay initiatives are in line with the original purpose but said the healthy community partnership in Cumberland is a "bit of a stretch." She hopes no money is spent until the board establishes priorities.

"I think we've been spinning our wheels for years," Winchester said. "We need to give staff direction. Do we want SROs (Single Room Occupancy) or a homeless shelter?"

To Courtenay director Jon Amber's understanding, 'capacity' means doing something. He cited the Titanic as an analogy: What's needed is lifeboats, not an iceberg study.

"We should be using this money to help the homeless," Comox director Tom Grant said. "I think we have to be very careful what we do with this $300,000."

Grant and Ambler both noted BC Housing has withdrawn funding that enabled the Pidcock House shelter in Courtenay to operate on a 24/7 basis until the end of June.

The board unanimously approved Grant's motion to demand Minister Responsible for Housing Rich Coleman reinstate the funding.

The other $100,000 from VIHA is to be transferred to the City of Courtenay to assist with the development of emergency shelter/supportive housing, as approved by the CVRD board.

• • •

The committee approved a recommendation to advise the federal government of the district's opposition to eliminate Joint Emergency Preparedness Program (JEPP) funding and to cancel support for the urban search and rescue team.

In the past 10 years the CVRD and Comox Valley Emergency Program (CVEP) have received 25 grants from JEPP totaling more than $54,000. Funds have  provided training opportunities and supplies, including an emergency generator for Denman Island.

Ambler, noting the 2011 tsunami in Japan, said money spent on emergency preparedness is pennies compared to the end result of saving lives.

"We get tremendous bang for the buck," he said. "It's essential we support this."

The committee approved a second recommendation to send a letter to B.C. local governments seeking support for a resolution requesting the federal minister of Public Safety Canada to restore funding to appropriate levels. The resolution would be submitted to the next Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

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