Neighbours oppose longer hours at shelter in Courtenay

Residents living near the Salvation Army shelter on Pidcock Avenue have to deal with noise, people hanging around on the lawn and people having sex in broad daylight, and it's ruining their privacy and sense of safety, they told Courtenay council Tuesday.

Residents living near the Salvation Army shelter on Pidcock Avenue have to deal with noise, people hanging around on the lawn and people having sex in broad daylight, and it’s ruining their privacy and sense of safety, they told Courtenay council Tuesday.

Council held a public hearing earlier this week on a zoning amendment bylaw that would allow the shelter at 632 Pidcock Ave. to be open 24 hours, seven days a week.

Stanley Elder, one of 64 seniors living in the Kiwanis Village right across from the Salvation Army shelter, told council that he’s had people who use the shelter break into the items on his veranda.

“We’ve had problems to no end,” he said. “It’s not getting any better, and if they take it to 24-7, it’s going to be worse. I don’t know why senior citizens have to put up with what goes on there. I’d ask you to turn this down for myself and for all senior citizens.”

A woman who lives right next to the shelter said she can’t sell her house when people learn what is next door.

She says she has seen people sitting out every night laughing and howling, as well as people having sex on the lawn and on the bench at the bus stop.

Bernhard Wendt lives right across the street from the shelter and thinks it’s an erosion of his privacy and his safety.

“I’m finding I’m being grossly inconvenienced by the shelter as it is now,” he said. “I don’t feel very secure there anymore. There are all kinds of things there that don’t bode well with my well being, and I would hate to see it escalate to 24-7.”

Maybe the shelter needs more control over what’s going on around it, suggested Bill Thomas, who spoke as a representative of Kiwanis Village.

“Perhaps if it’s open 24-7, that control will be there,” he said. “A number of my seniors become very concerned in the middle of the night and early morning when people who can’t get into the shelter circulate. I ask if the shelter is allowed to open 24-7, that they think very carefully about controlling the people who go there.”

Brent Hobden is the community ministries director at the Salvation Army, and he and his family live about a five-minute walk from the shelter.

He says the Pidcock shelter is a “very unique” shelter with unique challenges, such as the fact that residents can stay only three days.

“Right now, the Comox Valley has the only shelter in B.C. that’s not open 24 hours,” he said. “Right now, at 8 a.m., they’re finishing breakfast, and no matter what frame of mind they’re in, no matter what their physical health, we’re kicking them out.”

Hobden felt that if the shelter were open 24 hours a day, there wouldn’t be so many people wandering around outside.

“They’re outside because they have no destination,” he said.

After hearing from nearby residents, council decided to postpone third reading of the zoning amendment bylaw for two weeks to allow consideration of a Good Neighbour Agreement, which would outline issues such as the Salvation Army patrolling the environment or monitoring patrons.

Coun. Larry Jangula voted against the postponement.

“I think we need to respect these people’s rights and enjoyment of their privacy,” he said. “Anything else is doing them a disservice. It’s not right for these people to put up with that.”

Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard, who initiated the consideration of removing operating restraints from the shelter, said the intention of rezoning was to bring the shelter in line with operations in every other community across the province.

She also noted that the intent from the beginning was to have a Good Neighbour Agreement in place.

“The intention was that building was never purpose-built for a shelter, but we’re in a crunch right now, and we’re coming up to inclement weather now,” she said. “There are problems there, and the idea of a 24-hour shelter is to alleviate them, not exacerbate them. It’s awful to know things are not going well … we’ve got to find a way to solve that, and you don’t do it by doing nothing. I think it’s incumbent on us to recognize people are dying on our streets, and we can do something this winter so it doesn’t happen again.”

Coun. Jon Ambler pointed out that when a local group visited other shelters, they said a Good Neighbour Agreement was essential, and he wondered why there hasn’t been one yet.

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