Homeless action urged in Comox Valley before winter arrives

Sarah Sullivan of AIDS Vancouver Island is disappointed to see another winter looming with little action taken on homelessness.

Sarah Sullivan of AIDS Vancouver Island is disappointed to see another winter about to pass by with little action taken on the homelessness issue in the Comox Valley.

Working in partnership with the Wachiay Friendship Centre, AIDS Vancouver Island is urging the regional district to do something with its purchase at Cliffe Avenue, where it proposes to construct a homeless shelter, and to secure funding with BC Housing to operate the facility.

“We cannot wait another year for an emergency shelter and supportive housing,” Sullivan said in a Tuesday presentation to the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) committee of the whole.

She said the proposed shelter would be an “indispensable asset” desperately needed to assist the approximate 250 chronically homeless individuals in the Valley that were identified by the Mayor’s Task Force in 2008.

Sullivan noted the Courtenay Library acts as an informal drop-in centre for the homeless.

“We need comprehensive, concrete actions immediately,” the Wachiay Centre said in a statement.

The proposed shelter has been a subject of controversy since the district spent $470,000 on a trio of lots in the 800 block of Cliffe Avenue. Courtenay director Larry Jangula, who received numerous complaints from businesses near the proposed site, has suggested the area around Chuck’s Trucks in East Courtenay would be a more suitable location for a 24/7 emergency shelter.

While recognizing concerns of business owners, Sullivan said other communities have shown that shelters can succeed.

Comox director Paul Ives, noting the challenges of securing funds from BC Housing, said it would be helpful to know which service providers are onside with a shelter.

“What is clear is the need for community engagement, and to have one voice,” said Sullivan, who encourages business, government and the homeless to work together.

“An emergency shelter is only one piece of the plan,” she said, noting the need for stable, low-barrier housing, as well as ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ housing. “There is a huge need in this community for affordable housing, period.”

Ideally, Sullivan said the shelter would contain multiple services, in response to Jangula’s question about the type of operation being envisioned. She said the Valley might even need separate dry and wet shelters.

“The location is critical,” said Jangula, noting a “huge pushback on any location.” He also notes some shelters, like the one in Duncan, have “huge problems.”

Sullivan suggests the Comox Valley learn from the successful operations.

In an effort to “start the ball rolling,” Courtenay director Greg Phelps motioned to write to Minister Responsible for Housing Rich Coleman for supplemental income to help the Salvation Army operate the Pidcock shelter in Courtenay on a 24/7 basis.