Emergency homeless shelter proposed for visitor centre in Comox Valley

Click to play video: 'Comox Valley visitor centre could become an overnight shelter'
Comox Valley visitor centre could become an overnight shelter
As the weather gets wetter and colder, concerns are growing about keeping the unhoused population warm and safe this winter. In the Comox Valley, the regional district is considering using its visitors centre as a temporary overnight shelter space. Kylie Stanton has more. – Nov 6, 2023

With winter weather fast approaching, the Comox Valley Regional District is considering using its visitor centre as a temporary shelter for the homeless.

This year’s homeless count identified 272 unhoused people in the region, more than double the number recorded in 2020.

Click to play video: 'B.C. man scooped up by truck shares story'
B.C. man scooped up by truck shares story

“We really need more permanent, purpose-built shelters here and we don’t have enough,” Comox Valley Regional District chair Jesse Ketler told Global News.

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“The shelter we have, the Super 8 we got recently through BC Housing and the city of Courtenay, it’s just not enough space.”

The region’s Coalition to End Homelessness has put out an urgent appeal for potential locations for an emergency winter shelter, which would operate from November to March.

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Ketler said despite being located on Highway 19, a less-than ideal distance from the Courtenay city centre, the district has volunteered the visitor centre as a possible shelter location, which would operate from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

That distance could require people to be bused to the site, prompting the district to put up $91,000 for transportation and security costs.

“That’s one of the challenges is not being downtown. It is certainly a bit of travel away. But it may be a place that might be useful for folks that might be sleeping in their vehicles,” Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells said.

“Even if you are sleeping in your car in the middle of winter here when we have those cold snaps where it gets down to -5 or -10 degrees, that’s extremely cold. Those 100 people, they’re people’s friends, family. Everyone deserves a place to put their head at night and have some shelter.”

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Wells said the space will be vetted by the Coalition to End Homelessness, and would still require a fire and safety inspection.

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The proposal comes less than a week after a homeless Courtenay man escaped without serious injury after he and his dog were scooped up by a recycling truck while sheltering in a cardboard dumpster.

Advocates say that incident should serve as a wake-up call for the province.

“We have funded right now 5,000 shelters across 50 communities and if Comox believes it needs more shelter capacity and they can find a location for us, we would be willing to find ways to get more shelter spaces available for them,” Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon told Global News.

Even if it is approved, the visitor centre could only host between 10 and 20 people per night, barely putting a dent in the region’s homeless population.

“It might not be the one large space that we want, it might be multiple smaller spaces, Ketler said.

“But we need to find the space, we can’t let people be out in the cold.”

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