Local Chamber of Commerce members and Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association representatives took a firsthand look last week at a pair of emergency shelters during a bus tour that stopped at the New Hope Centre in Nanaimo and Warmland House in the Cowichan Valley.
The Salvation Army operates the former and the Canadian Mental Health Association the latter.
The purpose of the tour was to explain services and benefits a homeless shelter could provide to the Comox Valley. The regional district has purchased property in the 800 block of Cliffe Avenue in Courtenay that has been earmarked for a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week shelter.
“Both of those operations are doing great things in the community,” said Salvation Army community ministries director Brent Hobden.
Along with community showers and lunch programs, both facilities offer chiropractic services. Warmland clients can also access a podiatrist.
”These are things that we would take for granted,” Hobden said. “I could see that we would take programs from both of those facilities and try to amalgamate them, and try to make it a little more Comox Valley-specific.”
Hobden said there were some “extremely positive questions and answers” during the tour.
While he recognizes there has been some pushback from businesses near the proposed shelter location in Courtenay, Hobden said downtown is where homeless people typically congregate.
“It’s all a matter of education,” he said. “We desperately need to get the word out and show people that this has been done in most other communities around British Columbia. When a shelter is put up, it always has extremely positive results, and that’s exactly the same thing that’s going to happen here once we get it up and running.”
As it stands, the Salvation Army offers services but programming opportunities are limited. Hobden said Pidcock House is the only homeless shelter in the Valley, but it does not operate 24 hours a day. The approximate 45-minute walk from Pidcock to the Salvation Army Family Services at 2966 Kilpatrick Ave. can be a difficult trek for some clients.
”Having on-site services would go a long way,” Hobden said. “Right now there’s a lot of people that are falling through the cracks.”
Mark Middleton, president of the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association, said the shelters in Nanaimo and Duncan resulted from the collaborative efforts of businesses, the public and three levels of government.
“I guess they received opposition and questions like we get,” Middleton said. “But in the long run, you’d have to believe their communities are better off with a shelter than they are without.”
He said the shelters are completely different in that Nanaimo is dry and Duncan wet. The latter, he noted, is next door to an elementary school, from where students help tend a community garden and learn about agriculture in the process.
“I think at the same time they’re exposed to people that are suffering with addiction issues,” Middleton said. “It makes them more tolerant perhaps as they grow older.”
He also noted visitors at New Hope and Warmland are considered clients, around whose needs the shelters were designed and built.
“We’ve got some work ahead of us, but the trip was definitely a positive step in my mind,” Middleton said. “Now it’s just a matter of trying to figure out what needs to happen, from ground zero to having a facility that best suits the needs of the people that are going to use it.
“It’s going to have its controversy, regardless of where it’s built and when it’s built. But at some point we’ve got to get beyond that and flat out do the right thing.”