The Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness had hoped to move the Connect Warming Centre from Cliffe Avenue to a space at Puntledge Road to continue operating the service throughout the pandemic. That opportunity, however, is no longer available.
“We’re at a bit of a deficit again in terms of what we can do for the community’s most vulnerable,” coalition co-ordinator Andrea Cupelli said at Courtenay council April 19.
Operated by the Comox Valley Transition Society, the warming centre provides a welcoming space for individuals who are experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness. Guests can temporarily store and dry items, and access washrooms, refreshments and other supports.
Since opening early last year, there have been 11,164 visits to Connect, which has served 1,139 hot dinners.
A shower program, run from the Lewis Centre, was added at the start of COVID. A total of 1,542 showers have been taken.
Since Feb. 12, Connect has also been providing an overnight shelter service, which ends April 30.
“We are really concerned about what will happen after April 30,” Cupelli said.
BC Housing has provided temporary funding for 46 beds at the Courtenay Travelodge, and the Pidcock shelter provides emergency mats. Nevertheless, Cupelli said staff need to turn away an average of five people each night at the warming centre.
The regional district has applied to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for a $1.2 million grant that would provide temporary pandemic funding. However, in terms of long-range solutions, Cupelli said the community needs at least 50 mats for overnight shelter and, ideally, another 100 units of supportive housing.
The coalition is meeting Tuesday, April 27 with BC Housing to discuss additional shelter space in the community.
“I firmly believe that we need not only additional shelter space, but a permanent solution in terms of housing, and that involves provincial resources,” Coun. Doug Hillian said.
Council approved a motion from Hillian to meet with BC Attorney General David Eby, the Minister Responsible for Housing, to discuss and request an accelerated and comprehensive provincial response to the local homelessness situation.
“I think that we should press the advantage we have in the co-operative relationship we forged with our local social agencies and with BC Housing, and push for more definitive action to address the type of issues that came up tonight where we see a lack of shelter beds and permanent housing, that we don’t have to wait years to see in place,” Hillian said.
He suggested that he and Mayor Bob Wells, along with a city staffer and coalition member, meet with Eby.