During the pandemic, local municipalities needed to respond to an increased visibility of unsheltered homeless individuals. Kate O’Connell, director of corporate services at the City of Courtenay, noted a big increase in numbers since the last homelessness count, literally a week before the pandemic struck.
Last year, the regional district was awarded a $1.093 million Strengthening Communities Grant to help bridge the period between the COVID outbreak and post-Covid recovery. This year, the city assumed administrative oversight for the grant. The CV Transition Society received $91,028 for expanded services at the Connect Warming Centre Program from September 2021 to January 2022. A further $105,000 was provided to the Community Cares Warming Centre, a temporary evening drop-in from January to April 1, 2022.
Another funded initiative is the CVTS Community Access Hub, operating six days a week from May 2, 2022 to June 30, 2023. The day centre includes a shower program, washrooms, harm reduction and overdose response, among other services.
Grant money is also helping with rural outreach on Denman and Hornby islands, AIDS Vancouver Island peer-based outreach, and Sunday Service Community Engagement.
“These are individuals who are struggling,” O’Connell said at Courtenay council Aug. 29. “Support services are meant to lift them up. They’re not just a number.”
Coun. Doug Hillian said there are people who feel the city should not be conducting such programs and services.
“We have very little choice,” Hillian said. “We’re engaged on a day-to-day basis with the issues presented by the challenges of homelessness, and lack of housing and the toxic drug crisis. For us not to respond by working with our partner agencies would, in my view, be a dereliction of our duty to our citizens, the most vulnerable and others. I applaud the efforts of our staff and the agencies doing this work.”
A report updating the services will be sent to the CVRD, Town of Comox and Village of Cumberland.
Residents in the vicinity of 3rd and Harmston are requesting action and offering possible solutions to resolve traffic concerns in the Old Orchard neighbourhood. They say longstanding traffic speed and volume issues have worsened since Complete Street changes were made on 5th Street. Parking is also an issue on Harmston Avenue.
“But our main concern is safety,” Alana Check said in a presentation to council.
Rick Sheldon said the city removed stop signs on 3rd Street.
“Something needs to be done before the park (McPhee Meadows) opens,” Sheldon said. “The over-riding issue on 3rd Street is the sheer volume of traffic.”
To change traffic flow, the group suggests positioning a bullnose cement block at the entrance to the 500 block at 3rd and Fitzgerald as a trial project. Staff will report back to council.
McPhee Meadows Nature Park
Council directed staff to proceed with design to support potential construction of McPhee Meadows Nature Park, a 4.78 hectare riverfront property in Old Orchard. The late Robert McPhee donated the land to the city in 2011. It is to be maintained as a public wetland park. The project budget exceeds $3 million, but the city hopes to secure a Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) grant of $2,900,000.