The Comox Valley Regional District purchased three lots in the 800 block of Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay in 2010 for the purpose of housing a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week emergency shelter for the homeless.
The next step is to find partnerships for constructing and operating the shelter.
While social service agencies consider the purchase a step in the right direction for marginalized populations in the Valley, a number of area businesses are opposed to the location of the proposed facility.
“I think we have to listen to the concerns of businesses in this area,” Courtenay Coun. Larry Jangula said at a regional district board meeting. Jangula, who criticized the proposed location for its proximity to the liquor store on Cliffe Avenue, suggested the area around Chuck’s Trucks at 180 Old Island Hwy. near Canadian Tire would be a better shelter location.
The newly acquired property was a focal point of discussion at the first meeting of the regional district’s housing and homelessness standing committee. Committee member Brent Hobden, community services director at the local branch of the Salvation Army, suggests the property is ideal for shelter, transitional housing and drop-in purposes.
The Comox Valley population includes about 250 “truly homeless people,” based on provincial statistics that estimate 116 to 232 people with addictions and mental illnesses live on the streets. The average age is about 40, with women comprising 53 per cent of the total number. About 18 per cent of the local homeless population is younger than 18.
The Mayor’s Task Force — a predecessor to the standing committee — concluded that if nothing is done, homeless numbers will climb to 900 by 2010, based on a 30-per-cent annual growth rate.
The situation worsens when factoring in some residents at Maple Pool Campsite, who will have to find a new home in the coming weeks.
In early November, the City of Courtenay gave property owners Jin and Da Li Lin until the end of January to comply with city bylaws, meaning permanent residences will no longer be permitted at the Headquarters Road property. The city would allocate up to 23 seasonal campsites.
Council later extended the deadline to the end of July.
The campsite, which backs onto the Tsolum River, flooded twice last year, causing residents to be evacuated.
Several Salvation Army shelter residents use Maple Pool as their home, according to Hobden.
“I know finding accommodation for less-fortunate people in our Valley is extremely difficult,” he said.
The number of guests coming to the Salvation Army shelter has increased 25 per cent from last year, and the organization has seen a 41-per-cent increase in the number of families coming to its Family Services offices looking for support.