Coalition looking for land to house homeless

The Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness appealed Monday to Courtenay council to provide land where modular units for the homeless could be constructed. The coalition is facing deadlines, but council was not in a position to donate land without first consulting with staff and council members not present at Monday’s meeting.

Due to the lack of low-barrier supportive housing and low vacancy rates, the coalition says that housing the homeless is an urgent matter in the Valley.

“People are suffering,” said coalition member Heather Ney, executive director at the Comox Valley Transition Society.

In an effort to tackle homelessness throughout B.C., the provincial government plans to construct 2,000 modular housing units over two years, partnering with interested communities. The first 1,000 units are expected to be operating early next year. The units will be staffed 24/7 by non-profits. They will include supports to help people stabilize their lives. Three local agencies have submitted Expressions of Interest to manage the homes. If successful, the Valley could have 30-35 units.

Ney notes that Campbell River and other Island communities have finalized agreements with government.

“So we need to jump on this opportunity,” she said. “I know it’s a tight spot, but I’m saying it like this because of the urgency. They (government) are looking for a commitment that the City will provide land.”

The coalition is seeking either a donation of City-owned land suitable to build the units, or a long-term land lease. Ideally, the parcel(s) would be .8 hectare, close to services, zoned appropriately and serviced.

“This is difficult to lay this on us now without senior staff here,” said Mayor Larry Jangula, noting the absence of CAO David Allen, and Couns. Manno Theos and Doug Hillian.

According to Jangula, Maple Pool Campground owners Dali and Jin Lin have said their property could be used. He also suggests the property behind the Washington Apartments — which the Province and BC Housing purchased in 2015 — might be a spot to build the units. The coalition, however, says the latter option is off the table.

Jangula questioned why Courtenay taxpayers are asked for help when the coalition is a Valley-wide initiative. Ney said that people need services and Courtenay is the biggest player.

“Government wants the City dialoging with the coalition,” she said.

“This is a tricky situation,” said Coun. Rebecca Lennox, noting land-related issues are discussed in-camera.

Council favoured a Bob Wells motion for Jangula to meet with the coalition, as needed, to share information and to collaborate.

Council also supported a motion from Lennox to have staff, as soon as possible, short-list possible properties that could be made available.

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