The two empty parcels are located next to the Cumberland Lodge. Photo by Scott Strasser.

Outreach worker pitches supportive housing concept in Cumberland

Grant Shilling presented the idea to the Island Health board of directors last week

Grant Shilling is still fiercely advocating for supportive housing to be implemented in the Comox Valley.

At the Island Health public board meeting on March 29, Shilling presented on behalf of the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society.

Supportive housing is subsidized housing that provides 24/7 support to residents. It is meant for low-income earners, those suffering from substance addiction, or those requiring mental health support systems.

Shilling, who works as an outreach worker for Dawn to Dawn, pitched an idea at the meeting of converting three vacant parcels of land in Cumberland into supportive housing units.

Island Health owns the three parcels, which are adjacent to the Cumberland Lodge nursing home.

According to Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird, when the Cumberland Hospital Board was dissolved roughly 15 years ago, an agreement stipulated that Island Health’s land had to be used for medical purposes, or be given back to the Village.

“Island Health has always been aware that they need to use that land for medical services,” she said.

“Every year, for the last number of years, I’ve been going to them to ask them what they’re doing with the land.”

Baird says the land used to have houses on it that were rented out, but the homes were eventually demolished due to their age and condition.

Shilling said he’s spoken with developers and BC Housing representatives about the feasibility of developing the vacant land into a supportive housing project.

“We could build 16 units of affordable housing, mainly family-based,” he told the board. “Those 16 units would pay for the rest of the property to satisfy what BC Housing needs. In the meantime, we could build supportive modular housing as an interim plan.”

“There are currently programs that support both things through the new government, and through BC Housing, we have access to that,” he continued.

Currently no supportive housing in the Comox Valley

Shilling has long said there is a critical need for supportive housing in the Comox Valley. He mentioned in his presentation how Nanaimo has 160 supportive housing units, but the Comox Valley still has none.

“We’re the only municipality that I know of on Vancouver Island that does not have any — not one unit of — supportive housing,” he said in a prior interview. “It is absolutely necessary to get supportive housing in the Comox Valley in the next year or two, if not sooner.”

Baird said she has spoken to Leah Hollins — the chair of the Island Health board of directors — since the March 29 meeting and is waiting to hear the health authority’s perspective on Shilling’s idea.

“We are waiting, just like Grant,” she said. “We want to know what they’re going to do with [the land].

“There’s a definite need in the Valley for housing — for supportive housing.”

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