At a lengthy public hearing Monday at Courtenay council, dozens of people voiced opinions about a supportive housing proposal on Eighth Street. The idea is to build 46 homes on City-owned land at 988 Eighth. The project would include 24/7 services to support homeless individuals. The John Howard Society of North Island would operate the housing and provide the services.
“I truly believe that 24/7 support in a self-contained unit will allow them to not focus on surviving on the streets but some of the other goals they may have, including their mental wellness, their education and their recovery,” said Heather Ney, executive director of the Comox Valley Transition Society.
“We’re one of the few communities on Vancouver Island to not have supportive housing,” said Andrea Cupelli, co-ordinator of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness. “People are able to move forward when they’re safely housed.”
She added that property values do not decrease and crime does not increase in the presence of supportive housing, according to statistics.
Several residents from the nearby Kiwanis Village for seniors are not happy with the proposal.
“Our community feels it’s going to be a bad mix,” said Karen Hope, noting the need for a through-road in the village. “There’s huge issues already there. Our seniors are feeling vulnerable. We don’t see a lot of police presence in our neighbourhood.”
Laurie McMillan says she was threatened by a drug addict in front of her home. Nevertheless, she feels the project is needed, but in another part of Courtenay.
“It’s (drug activity) escalated in the last month,” she said. “We’re over-run with drugs.”
Kathy Bullock agrees that supportive housing projects should be dispersed throughout a city, not concentrated in one neighbourhood.
“We already have a problem with needles from the Salvation Army (Pidcock shelter down the street),” Bullock said.
Salvation Army community ministries director Brent Hobden feels people are not seeing the positive impact of services such as the Pidcock shelter, and of organizations such as the CVTS and the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society.
“They (homeless individuals) need a place to sleep,” Hobden said. “Now’s an opportunity to make a difference.”
“This project is badly needed,” said Bob Galligan, aka Bob the Bum, whom Dawn to Dawn has housed in a Comox suite. “Stop making us look like scum.”
Eighth Street resident Glenda Kinney felt some of the speakers were missing the issue in question, that being the proposed zoning amendment bylaw that would allow the project.
“It’s the area we’re concerned about,” Kinney said.
“We live right there,” McMillan added. “You can say we don’t care, but we do. None of you live where we do.”
Council will re-visit the matter at a future meeting. Pending approval, construction is anticipated to begin this summer to have the homes ready for winter.