Over the past several months, I have read the papers and listened intently to the media coverage surrounding the development of a new homeless shelter for the Comox Valley.
What I have learned is that we live in a wonderful caring community that understands that there is a great need to provide assistance to those in need, but that there are also a vast deal of unanswered concerns that need to be addressed.
While The Salvation Army is not officially a part of the process for the development of a new shelter at this time (the decision as to the service provider has yet to be addressed for this new facility), I would like to provide some insight from the experience that I have gained from nearly 20 years in working with those whom are homeless or at risk of being homeless.
The Salvation Army is the largest non-governmental provider of social services in Canada. In the Comox Valley, we operate the shelter located on Pidcock Avenue. We are the only Salvation Army shelter in the province that does not operate 24/7 due to city bylaw restrictions.
This means that come 8:30 each morning, our guests must leave the shelter and face the elements on the streets of Courtenay. The current shelter also does not have any instructional/classroom facilities from which life-skill training/groups can be conducted.
With the lack of a drop-in centre in the Valley, there is truly no place for the homeless to go during the daytime hours. The services that are needed to be accessed — mental health, nursing centre, employment supports, etc. are all downtown.
There has been great debate about the proposed shelter being located in the heart of the downtown core area. Concerns surrounding aggressive panhandling and public urination have been brought forth.
The development of a new shelter in the downtown core provides the opportunity for individuals to access clean, safe washroom facilities, access to laundry and resources that will provide them with the opportunity to try and break free from the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
The local Chamber of Commerce and downtown business association are deeply caring individuals and desire to see the very best for, not only the City of Courtenay, but for the entire Valley. They desire to see the downtown area be a successful and thriving place for merchants to do business and a safe and fun place for those of all ages.
As the proprietor of a business in the downtown area, I desire the same thing. However, evidence has shown that the establishment of a shelter in the downtown core does not increase concerns or issues, but rather can be a major assistance in tackling the issues already present.
The development of a new shelter will not solve homelessness in the Comox Valley. However, with a facility that can provide life-skill training, addiction resources, access to case management in a safe, clean environment, we can provide a hand up to those caught in this cycle.
For more information on what The Salvation Army does, and in particular, The Dignity Project, please go to http://dignity.salvationarmy.ca.
Editor’s note: Darryl Burry is pastor/executive director of the Salvation Army’s Comox Valley Ministries.