The doors opened on the first shipping container home Sunday afternoon.
Representatives from Comox Rotary and Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society, the two groups spearheading the project, joined guests at Courtenay’s Maple Pool Campground, the site where the shelters will be housed. The crowd included local government representatives, such as Mayor Bob Wells and Coun. Will Cole-Hamilton of Courtenay, Coun. Pat McKenna of Comox and Coun. Jesse Ketler of Cumberland.
Tom Grant from Dawn to Dawn and Comox Rotary president Charlene Davis cut the ribbon on the new home, part of the WeCanShelter project. Grant, a long-time advocate for homeless people, was a little caught off guard when it was revealed the first home would be named in his honour. He admitted he didn’t expect it.
“I probably wouldn’t have come down,” he joked. “It was very emotional.”
The home is twenty-feet long, eight feet wide and almost 10 feet high, and it is made from a refurbished shipping container. Inside, the home contains amenities such as a small fridge, induction hot plate, hot water tank, cupboards, storage space, a shower and toilet and a bed. They pack a lot of things into the small space, and the interiors with windows and blinds are quite bright, with walls painted in light blue and cream.
Davis, who like Grant, has been working on this project for a long time, said the home, which will be joined by three others over this next year, is designed to be a first step for someone living without shelter. It is based on the Housing First concept, which aims to get vulnerable people into safe, secure homes first and then help with a person’s underlying issues. The hope is to have them move on to a next stage of supportive housing, then independent housing.
Dawn to Dawn will have a full-time social worker to monitor and choose candidates for the WeCanShelter homes, and there will be a written agreement for tenants to follow. Davis credits Maple Pool Campground’s Jin and Dali Lin for keeping the rents around the BC Housing level, making them affordable, along with working to reduce costs for tenants in general.
The project has been a community-wide effort. Davis estimates the unit will have cost Rotary about $20,000 and represent about 1,400 hours of volunteer time.
“I’m really proud of Comox Rotary,” Davis said. “We got behind this project and worked incredibly hard to make it happen.
She also credited the community’s support for donations, building materials and volunteer hours.
“Everywhere we turned people were offering constantly to help,” she said.
On Sunday, 100 Women Who Care representatives Jenny Day, Lisa Wilcox, Carol Daize and Angela Ohlman presented Davis with a cheque for $14,400 for WeCanShelter. As well, Roy’s Towne Pub in Royston recently held a fundraiser for the project and brought in close to $11,000. Grant says he ran into one man at the event who was so impressed, he offered to donate another $5,000 toward the effort.
The second and third shipping container homes are now being fitted with windows and doors, and they should be ready soon. Grant expects that as the first home served as kind of a prototype, it might have taken a little longer to get ready than the next ones will.
He also said it has helped that local political partners have gotten behind these initiatives to help homeless people.
“We’re getting more buy-in from the government as well,” he added.