Courtenay council narrowly votes to search for alternate homeless shelter sites

Is there a better solution than building a homeless shelter on the controversial Cliffe Avenue properties already purchased by the Comox Valley Regional District?
The City of Courtenay is going to find out.

Is there a better solution than building a homeless shelter on the controversial Cliffe Avenue properties already purchased by the Comox Valley Regional District?The City of Courtenay is going to find out.Council narrowly approved a motion Monday that directs City staff to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for an alternate site for a homeless shelter to be located in the Comox Valley.The motion was brought forward by Coun. Murray Presley.“I don’t think there’s anybody on this council who’s opposed to providing shelter to the homeless,” he said. “It’s really the method that unfortunately was used in choosing this particular site. There wasn’t the opportunity for public input, and that’s kind of how the purchase of land goes — you buy the land, then you tell the public after.”It wouldn’t be a problem, but all of a sudden we had a lot of local merchants, customers of those merchants and other concerned people say ‘that’s not the right place to have it.’”Presley pointed out the City received a petition with 1,100 signatures opposing the site, and the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce has opposed the site.”All I’m asking is us to take a look at what alternative sites may be out there,” he said. “It may, at the end of the day, be the only site. It may be the best site. But we haven’t taken the opportunity to find out what else is available.”After about an hour of debate, Presley’s motion passed 4-3, with Presley, Jon Ambler, Manno Theos and Larry Jangula in favour and Ronna-Rae Leonard, Doug Hillian and Greg Phelps against.Ambler considered Presley’s motion a win-win. “That site has been purchased; we have it in our hands,” he said. “At this point, we’re proposing before we commit to that, do we want to have a look and see if there’s a better alternative?” Ambler suggested that council set a date hear back from staff, as he wasn’t interested in an “open-ended search for utopia.”He proposed that council ask to bring the final report back by Jan. 16, which gives staff 120 days.Hillian was concerned this was effectively another delay tactic.”To put this issue off further and leave it to another council to make the decision after an election has taken place, I think, is an abdication of our responsibility as elected officials,” he said.He also raised some questions about the petition, as he’d heard the number of legitimate signatures was roughly half the 1,100 signatures being reported, and he understood there is another petition in favour of the Cliffe Avenue site circulating.Leonard pointed out that popular thinking is to provide services where the homeless are.”We don’t have an issue of homelessness in Comox the way we do in downtown Courtenay. We don’t have an issue of homelessness in East Courtenay or Crown Isle. It’s in downtown Courtenay, so we need to address the problem where it is.”Leonard also emphasized the timeliness of the issue.”We can act like people have done for centuries and say it’s not our problem; we’ll end up with our own downtown eastside,” she said.Coun. Manno Theos did not want to miss any solutions that could be out in the community.”All I’m asking, all I’m saying is let’s not leave any stones unturned, and let’s take one last look at what is out there,” he said.Jangula expressed frustration with the entire issue and the way it’s been handled.”We can argue about these 1,100 people on the petition all we want, but what the merchants are telling us is that if this facility is built, their clientele will not come back to their business, and they will either move or go out of business,” he said. “Our business community pays 40 per cent of our taxes, and we’ve completely stonewalled and ignored them on this issue.”During Monday’s meeting, Roger Kishi of the Wachiay Friendship Centre and Sarah Sullivan of AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) spoke to council about trying to deal with homelessness.Kishi spoke about the path forward for the Comox Valley, which is coming out of the final report from the consultants who worked with the CVRD’s housing and homeless standing committee.The consultants and standing committee recommended that the Comox Valley move forward with a housing and homeless task force, he explained.AVI supports the development of a new emergency shelter to be built on the Cliffe Avenue site, Sullivan told council.”The time is now, it is overdue, we desperately need this and, frankly, I’m frightened going into another winter without a 24-7 shelter,” she said. “How many more people have to die on the streets before something is done?”writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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