The Comox Valley RCMP and City of Courtenay officials were seen dismantling a small homeless encampment next to Courtenay City Hall Wednesday morning.
Courtenay’s chief administrative officer, Geoff Garbutt, said the clean-up of the area is an ongoing issue, and Wednesday’s events were not out of the ordinary.
“They (campers) have been attending the property pretty regularly, but then they tend to move along during the day, so it isn’t something that just sprung up overnight – it’s an ongoing issue that we are working on,” he said. “We have a partnership with all of our respective groups to work with the people experiencing homelessness – we have our own city staff, our bylaw staff, we work with the RCMP and with Connect (Centre), and so we… are working together in a co-ordinated fashion.”
“Homeless people often set up their tents there at night and are expected to clean up and leave the area in the morning,” said Const. Monika Terragni of the Comox Valley, adding the RCMP were on hand to keep the peace while city staff cleaned up the area.
“They were given the option to take their items across the street to the Connect Centre, or anywhere else they chose to go.”
No arrests were made, and there were no apparent medical health issues that required emergency intervention.
Garbutt said while the cleanup in the area is an ongoing issue, the task is done with empathy towards the campers.
“In terms of respect, these are human beings, and we all work together and we care for people. There’s no negativity there, but there is a public space there that we have to access and we try and be as respectful and co-operative as we can and likewise with the people experiencing homelessness as well. We know that everybody is trying their best to be helpful and work together.”
“They are able to access services in the Comox Valley which will assist with finding more permanent housing solutions,” added Terragni. “Specifically, the Connect Centre across the street has staff who are able to support them and assist them.”
|RCMP oversee a person packing up from the encampment near the Courtenay Riverway Wednesday morning. Photo supplied|
It’s a scene that has played itself over repeatedly throughout the community, and while work is being done to rectify the issue, Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness co-ordinator Angela Fletcher knows that’s of little comfort for the 200+ unhoused individuals in the Comox Valley.
“It’s so heartbreaking,” said Fletcher. “We are all emotionally pulled…, and it (highlights) the sense of urgency to be able to fulfil our mandate.”
Fletcher said it’s going to take a co-ordinated effort from all stakeholders involved to put a serious dent in the number of unhoused individuals in the Valley.
“We need all levels of government to come together with all the non-profits,” she said. “We work with 36 agencies to target our vulnerable population, but we need all levels of government to come together to answer all the needs.”
She pointed out that the housing crisis is more widespread than many people understand.
“There is such a stigma attached to homelessness, but people are struggling across the board,” said Fletcher. “From people on the streets, to families struggling to find homes, even families with two incomes, struggling to afford their living costs.”
Fletcher said that while there has been some funding received to put towards temporary solutions, it’s the permanent solutions – such as The Junction in Courtenay – that are taking time to come together.
“We have requested to B.C. Housing that we need immediate shelter, like The Junction, for 50 people, and over the course of 2022, we need another 100 units,” she said. “So we need BC Housing to get on board with us – and they are – but it’s just being delayed, it appears because of the pandemic and everything going on.”
Fletcher said as the seasons change, the urgency for shelter becomes that much more critical. With that in mind, the Coalition has received funding for 10 additional emergency beds this winter, which are tentatively slated to be put into the Connect Centre.