Ken Kelly feels like he’s 17, but in truth he’s 78.
His lungs aren’t what they used to be, abused from years of smoking, but he still loves walking.
During the best three years of his life, Ken would walk from Campbell River to Willow Point and back — twice a day when the sun was shining.
These days, Ken is keeping his eyes peeled for a place to live, preferably near Driftwood Mall where he could walk to his church. In the meantime, he is staying at the Pidcock House emergency shelter in Courtenay.
He wound up on the street after vacating an apartment he shared with a “noisy cokehead” of a roommate.
“What gets me is it’s easier to find a two-bedroom apartment than it is a one-bedroom apartment. I don’t know why. Seems that way to me,” Ken says from the men’s den, where another guest tosses him a pack of smokes. “I honestly believe it’s cheaper for a person to take a mortgage on a house.”
Ken, who was born and raised in Cumberland, was once a homeowner until relationship issues complicated his life.
He doesn’t have much use for overpaid professional athletes — “the love of money is the root of all evil” — but his mood lightens when he considers the less-fortunate members of the community.
“It hurts me to look at someone in a wheelchair.”
Ken’s temporary home is a high-barrier, adult shelter operated by the Salvation Army. It contains 18 beds, 14 supplied by BC Housing and four by the Sally Ann. There are 12 beds for men downstairs and six beds for women on the main floor.
‘High-barrier’ refers to a protocol where intoxicated individuals are sent for a walk before settling in for the night.
“We have a lot of people in here who are maybe recovering alcoholics or addicts,” community ministries director Brent Hobden said. “You never know what’s going to trigger a person.”
Along with beds, Pidcock House offers healthy meals, showers and laundry. There are separate TV rooms for men and women. A new program room with two computer stations is conducive to small group sessions where guests can chat with Hobden or case worker/chaplain Alastair Hunting.
Outside, a gazebo will soon be added to the backyard area, which contains a garden and a horseshoe pitch.
There are two employees working three shifts a day at Pidcock. Typically, a volunteer also assists before and after dinner.
Guests can stay up to a month, after which they need to work on a Personal Development Plan for employment, education, lodging and health care options.
The PDP — developed in a cramped intake room near the entrance — is a key element of the shelter, the goal of which is to achieve stable, long-term housing for guests.
“Anybody can operate a hotel,” Hobden said. “That not what we’re about. The Salvation Army does this because we are passionate in making sure that people’s lives are changed. I don’t believe there’s a single person in this Valley that wants to live outside, that really wants to be homeless.”
This year, the Province committed $500,000 in ongoing, annual funding to ensure Pidcock continues to provide 24/7 support.
Another facility in the Comox Valley — Lilli House — provides shelter for women and children.
The City of Courtenay has purchased property at Braidwood Road to establish a supportive housing project.
But people continue to live on the streets.
“The shelter is very much undersized,” Hobden said, noting Pidcock turned away 99 people in October. Halfway into November, about 35 people have been turned aside.
In the case of extreme weather, the shelter can sleep an additional 15 people on mats in a spare room and in the lounges.
It’s tempting to think such cramped quarters would be a recipe for disaster, but life at Pidcock is pretty much in keeping with its Good Neighbour Agreement.
“In every family you’re going to have the odd problem, but we haven’t had a lot of incidents,” Hobden said.