The City of Duncan has denied funding for an extreme weather shelter for women.
The United Way and the Cowichan Coalition for Homelessness and Affordable Housing have been working towards placing the shelter in the former Charles Hoey school on Castle Place.
But a standing-room only group of people who are against placing the women’s shelter in the school made their point clear at the city’s council meeting on Jan. 8.
Two homeless counts in the Valley in 2017 identified an average of 23 women who are absolutely homeless in the area, and statistics show many of them are not using the Valley’s Warmland Shelter because they don’t feel safe in its predominantly male environment.
Much of the mostly government funding for the emergency women’s shelter is falling into place, but BC Housing will not provide start-up and administration fees.
That means an additional $9,000 is needed, so requests were made to the City of Duncan, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Municipality of North Cowichan to each contribute $3,000 to the shelter.
North Cowichan decided to grant the $3,000 request at its meeting on Dec. 20, but the City of Duncan denied the request at its meeting on Jan. 8.
The City of Duncan decided against establishing a temporary warming station for the homeless in its field houses at McAdam Park, which is adjacent to Charles Hoey school, just before Christmas after determining they weren’t suitable for the purpose, and after receiving complaints and concerns from neighbours.
Duncan city councillor Sharon Jackson, who voted against funding for the women’s emergency shelter, said the neighbourhood is already under siege from transient and homeless people.
She said many residents have experienced robberies, people living in their sheds and other issues, and they don’t want more of the same by having a women’s shelter established there.
“I believe this is the direct result of the failure of the federal and provincial governments to deal with their responsibilities in regards to the homeless, and local governments are being asked to pick up the slack,” Jackson said.
“The Warmland Shelter, which cost $13 million, was built to assist both women and men, so it’s up to that facility to come up with solutions.”
Jackson acknowledged that, as the school is owned by the Cowichan Valley school district, which has already given the green light to the shelter, the city does not have final say in the decision to set up at the school.
But she said the shelter’s proponents have been moving the facility forward without any consultations with the neighbours, or providing information to the public.
“It’s an appalling way to treat neighbours,” Jackson said.
Neighbour Zim Przybyl, who advocated strongly against the warming centre in the park, has started a petition against the women’s shelter at the school.
He said there are better locations for the shelter in the community.
“The old Malaspina College is currently being used for office space for Island Health, so why not convert it into a shelter and move the offices into the school?” Przybyl asked.
“The college site is more central to downtown, which would make it easier for the users of the shelter to access services.”
Keith Simmonds, a minister at Duncan United Church and a member of the Cowichan Coalition for Homelessness and Affordable Housing, said the coalition is sad that Duncan has chosen not to help assist the shelter, but there are other avenues to find the money.
He said he’s more concerned about the “huge degree” of fear that exists about the shelter in the neighbourhood.
“The best thing to do is to just go there and to talk to the people to determine what their concerns are and what can we address,” Simmonds said.
“We haven’t done it before because we didn’t know if and when all the pieces of the puzzle would come together.”
Simmonds said that while the Warmland Shelter is meant for both sexes, there are a number of homeless women in the community that simply can’t use its services for a number of reasons, including that some of them have been abused so badly in the past, they can’t go in a facility that is 90 per cent male.
Simmonds said the government’s funding formula for shelters calls for the space to be donated, as Charles Hoey school is being donated from the school district, but the old Malaspina College is privately owned and would have to be rented.
“Besides, it’s already being used by Island Health,” he said.