I was shocked the other day to hear that Courtenay council, and apparently also the RCMP, oppose the establishment of a formal camp/shelter site for the homeless. According to one of the volunteers hosting a small awareness gathering at Simms Park on Nov. 13, city council prefers to keep the homeless scattered around the city “out-of-site” and out of mind. Apparently it’s an optics thing. It is unclear when optics became more important than human life. When did our humanity go off the rails?
Consider the benefits of having a safe, organized, serviced area for these individuals to live, rather than having them trying to survive like rats in any secluded area they can find. If we can encourage them to gather in one area, it is easier to identify and treat those that have problems. And it does not need to be an unkempt sprawling tent city like we see elsewhere. A properly engineered site can be as attractive as any well run mobile home park. Yes, it will cost some money to do it right, but it will cost far more to maintain the status quo. Done right, it could even pay for itself.
The needs of the homeless are varied and many. Some are temporary and in transition. Some have mental and addiction issues. Most cannot afford or do not want to afford social housing. Many will never want to live in a shelter where they lack privacy, or feel insecure and unsafe. Some will prefer their shopping cart and their tent. Why not establish a multi-use site where they can all live in safety and with some dignity?
Such a site should accommodate a number of permanent tent pads serviced with electricity. It might also accommodate a number of single person dwellings from repurposed shipping containers. There would be on-site community facilities for washrooms, shower stalls, dish cleaning and laundry, and even social gathering. Such a site might also include some low-cost housing and even incorporate some retail space. None of it needs to be provided free. Most homeless people qualify for assistance and most will be willing to pay something for a safe place to live hassle-free.
Whatever site is chosen will be met with outcry from virtually every corner because the rest of us don’t want homeless people near us. The site I would choose is the large property across from the RCMP. I would fence it, landscape it, engineer it and make it a permanent site as a model for other jurisdictions.