Courtenay council is considering an option to allow the emergency shelter component at the Connect Warming Centre to continue operating as the pandemic wears on.
City staff recommend extending the overnight shelter service from May 1 to Oct. 5, or earlier if the provincial state of emergency is rescinded before the latter date. Sleeping accommodation would be limited to 10 or fewer. As such, the building at 685 Cliffe Ave. would not require an integrated fire alarm. Nevertheless, there would be a dedicated fire warden for overnight shifts.
The item needs to be formally approved at a regular council meeting.
The warming centre provides a space for individuals experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness. Guests can store and dry items, and access washrooms, refreshments and other supports. The overnight component had been set to expire April 30, but the city is concerned about displaced people who might have to sleep in parks or public spaces.
“The circumstances we are in are exceptional,” Coun. Doug Hillian said at committee of the whole April 26. “I’ve always maintained that if there was a disaster where residents were driven from their homes by fire, flood or earthquake, we’d be opening rec centres and other public facilities to provide temporary shelter. That’s essentially what we’re doing here for a group of vulnerable citizens who don’t have a home.”
Coun. Wendy Morin noted the centre, at times, might run out of space for all who knock on the door, based on visitor numbers since Feb. 12 when Connect started providing overnight shelter. Kate O’ Connell, the city’s director of corporate support services, said council has an option to amend the overnight accommodation to more than 10 people. This amendment would trigger fire-related code requirements, namely a fire alarm, sprinkler system and fire safety plans. However, as the landowner, the city will always maintain a certain level of liability.
The Pidcock emergency shelter in Courtenay might have room to house individuals who have been turned away from Connect, O’ Connell added.
Morin has been impressed to see Connect staff assisting people outside the building in an effort to maintain tidiness in the parking lot.
“It’s very uncomfortable for many of us to see people in that kind of distress,” Morin said, noting uncomfortable moments of intoxication or open drug use, as an example. “I hope that we come to a place where we get rid of this hierarchy of substance use, in terms of how one substance is more acceptable than another. It’s really the behaviours that go with the substances that are the problem. I think not everybody who goes to the shelter has those issues. Some do, some don’t.”
The 2021 estimated operating expense for the warming centre is $22,600, which includes hydro, maintenance and repair costs, taxes, cable, internet, phone and security. Regardless of occupancy, the city-owned property would have cost $10,000 per year to maintain as vacant. The addition of the centre has a net impact of about $12,600 for the year.