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Emergency shelter costs were high, and hurt CVRD’s reputation, says official

Shelter cost $200,000 and garnered lots of complaints
Hosting the emergency weather shelter at the Cowichan Community Centre over the winter was costly and hurt the CVRD’s reputation, according to an official. (Citizen file photo)

Using Heritage Hall at the Cowichan Community Centre for an emergency warming centre over the winter has resulted in substantial costs and “significant reputational impacts” to the Cowichan Valley Regional District, according to Ryan Wainwright, the senior manager of Emergency Management Cowichan.

Wainwright said in a report that the shelter was open for 43 colder-than-usual nights from Dec. 12 when it opened to March 31 when it closed, and had close to 1,000 visits during those nights.

He said despite the best efforts to get people in out of the cold, there were occasions where the demand exceeded capacity, resulting in 189 people being turned away from the shelter.


“This highlights the critical need for emergency overnight warming capacity in Cowichan,” Wainwright said.

The CVRD board made the decision in December to designate Heritage Hall as a place to support the unhoused population in the Cowichan region during extreme weather conditions until March 31 in response to the newly introduced Bill 31 of the Disaster and Emergency Management Act of BC.

The bill gives the province the authority to mandate communities to establish emergency weather shelters during extreme weather events if they had not done so themselves.

Attempts by local emergency organizations and local governments over the years to find a suitable location have, so far, proven unsuccessful.

Just weeks after the shelter was established at the centre, the CVRD announced it would look into the lease of a “commercially available” space to house the shelter until March 31 after receiving numerous complaints, but no location was found.


In a related report, centre manager Rob Williams said it cost approximately $200,000 to operate the shelter over the winter months.

He said $142,000 was for operational expenses, $50,000 for improvements to the facility to house the shelter, and $8,000 in lost revenue due to cancellations and turned-away rentals as a result of the shelter.

But Williams said much of the cost will be covered by the province.

Williams said more than 200 incidents related to the shelter were reported, including harassment, aggressive behaviour, theft, and loitering.

“The reported incidents have had a direct impact on staff, patrons and user groups,” Williams said.

“More specifically, the incidents often required staff involvement, putting more strain and stress on them as they are not trained in frontline mental health and addictions.”


Williams said it was anticipated that the decision to designate the space as a warming centre would generate negative reactions amongst patrons and user groups considering the potential impacts of the initiative.

He said those concerns were validated when letters were received from the Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association, the Cowichan Capitals hockey club, the Duncan Skating Club and other users complaining about the use of the Heritage Hall for the shelter, citing mainly safety and security concerns.

“The overall sentiment with the negative feedback regarding the shelter was that the CCC is the wrong location for this type of service due to the challenges presented by the users of the shelter and the impacts this created for other patrons in the building and surrounding neighbourhood,” Williams said.

At the CVRD’s committee of the whole meeting on April 24, Mill Bay/Malahat director and vice chair of the board Kate Segall said she wanted to express her deep gratitude to the exceptional work that staff and others had done at the shelter during the winter.

She said their dedication to providing crucial services to the most vulnerable members of the community is not just commendable, but a moral imperative.

Segall said she would suggest the mention of “significant reputational impacts” to the CVRD as a result of the shelter be reconsidered.

“While there were some vocal individuals that expressed negative sentiments, I’d like to remember that there is a silent majority that firmly supports the fundamental human right to shelter,” she said.

“I thank all our staff and members of the Lookout Housing and Health Society (which managed the shelter) for the significant efforts they made this winter and they deserve recognition and applause for their life-saving service. It’s undoubtedly challenging and very costly, but it exemplifies our community’s commitment to fostering a culture of compassion and care across the Cowichan Valley.”

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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