It’s with a heavy heart that Heather Ney decided to close the Connect Warming Centre on Wednesday morning.
Ney is the executive director of the Comox Valley Transition Society — a member agency of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness — which has been operating the centre at 685 Cliffe Ave. in Courtenay for more than two years. It supports individuals who are experiencing homelessness.
Connect has closed for the daytime, but showers and overnight service will remain open until March 31.
“People are going to be hungry now. We gave out a lot of food, and provided a lot of social supports,” Ney said. “I’m completely saddened by it. I think my team at Connect has done amazing work with this population…We were hitting our stride.”
“It’s a huge loss for the community,” said Dr. Eva Hemmerich, who has worked as a physician at Connect. She said funding was recently received for further outreach physicians. “Now we have nowhere to find people who are homeless.”
The coalition and the CVTS had expected a senior government grant exceeding $1 million would sustain operating costs for a year, so the organizations eased off on efforts to seek other sources of funding. However, the Strengthening Communities’ Services (SCS) grant comes with restrictions.
“That came to light in the last couple of months,” Ney said.
The regional district says the grant was awarded to provide funding for activities necessitated by pressures of the pandemic, a new overnight emergency shelter and training to educate front-line staff on reducing barriers and stigma. Expanding the Connect service was only one of the activities for which funding through the grant was sought.
The CVRD provided $91,000 to expand Connect activities from September to January 2022, and to help the CVTS fund additional activities.
Ney said $91,000 provided some relief, but was only good for a couple of months.
“That money went to cover a deficit that had already been created, because we hadn’t received any Strengthening Communities money,” she said. “With no money available to sustain the operations of Connect, the Transition Society couldn’t continue to go into deficit.”
“It’s not ideal,” Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells said of the daytime closure. He plans to work with CVRD board chair Jesse Ketler, city and CVRD staffers, coalition leaders and local MLAs to try to source more money.
“Really what we’re asking for is permanent funding,” Wells said, noting the temporary nature of grants. “Obviously, we want to be able to get a warming centre opened as soon as possible.”
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