The Comox Valley Regional District board soundly rejected a motion by Courtenay on Tuesday to reopen a discussion about a homeless shelter in the city.
The homeless live in Courtenay, Courtenay asked for help, the CVRD responded by buying downtown property in the city, it’s a Courtenay problem and Courtenay has to deal with it were the core messages delivered to the three Courtenay representatives on the CVRD board.
“I’m really at a loss why this has been punted back to the regional district,” Area B director Jim Gillis said in an opening salvo to address the motion.
In response, Courtenay director Larry Jangula said Gillis has obviously not being paying attention.
Jangula said Courtenay council, which passed a motion 4-3 last week to ask the regional district to reopen the discussion, did so “because of pressure, because of 1,100 signatures on a petition.”
Downtown businesspeople and many of their customers have been opposed to the location of the proposed shelter on Cliffe Avenue.
“We are saying we don’t want to force this down the throats of people who don’t want it,” Jangula stated, suggesting alternate sites near Chuck’s Trucks in East Courtenay and on Headquarters Road.
“If it is built down there (downtown) and businesses fail, the homeless will be blamed, and it is not their fault,” Jangula said.
Jon Ambler, representing absent Murray Presley — the prime critic on Courtenay council of the shelter location — agreed with Jangula.
“If the land is valuable, if we did a good job buying it, we can sell it,” Ambler said, referring to the CVRD buying three adjoining lots earlier this year at 865, 877 and 889 Cliffe Ave. for $470,000 to house a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week emergency shelter.
“We have no choice when the citizens refer it to the people (elected officials) who make the decisions,” Ambler added.
The homeless are in Courtenay and the shelter should be where the homeless are, Gillis replied.
“The real question is, where are you going to put it where it’s going to do the job and you won’t have more NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yards).”
Comox director Patti Fletcher said she was proud when the decision was made to buy the land, and is very disappointed now.
“The stigma (on homeless people) that is coming from some members of the community is truly unfortunate,” she added.
“I do think it’s a Courtenay issue, and I think they should resolve it,” said Cumberland director Leslie Baird.
“You guys have to engage your constituents … talk to your citizens,” Comox director Paul Ives told Courtenay directors Jangula, Ambler and Greg Phelps.
Ives had another suggestion, which might address the concerns of downtown Courtenay merchants who don’t know how a shelter would operate.
A memorandum of understanding with BC Housing could move ahead to identify who would operate the shelter and what form it would take, explained Ives.
“I’m not a fan of going backwards,” he said, referring to Courtenay’s motion for the CVRD to reopen the debate.
Phelps, who was commended by Gillis for consistently supporting a homeless shelter, admitted the CVRD board did what Courtenay wanted. Perhaps a made-in-Courtenay solution can be found, he mused aloud.
Only Jangula and Ambler supported the motion for the CVRD to reopen the issue. Baird, Fletcher, Gillis, Ives, CVRD board chair Edwin Grieve, Area A director Bruce Jolliffe and Phelps voted against it.
Ives then moved to approach BC Housing to begin a discussion, but Phelps asked for more time for Courtenay council to discuss what it might do.
“I’m not sure if BC Housing would want to get involved if the City is opposed,” Phelps explained.
Ives opposed an extension for Courtenay, clarifying that his motion would be to merely open a dialogue with BC Housing.
The motion was carried, with only Jangula opposed.