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Courtenay shipping container homes could be model for B.C.

Fourth site opened Saturday, and there are plans to keep building

The Comox Valley community opened the doors to its fourth shipping container home on Saturday afternoon, with the occupant set to take possession soon.

Comox Rotary Rod McKenzie presented a $10,000 cheque for the project, along with former club president Charlene Davis and Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society’s Sue Finneron, for the new home at Maple Pool Campground in Courtenay.

RELATED STORY: First shipping container home opened in Courtenay on Sunday

Davis then spoke briefly about the latest project, thanking everyone from her family to businesses to Maple Pool residents, adding that they were proud of what they have accomplished as a non-governmental organization, working without government support.

The original plan at the site had been to open four shipping container homes for homeless people, but the program has been such as success, the goal is to open more.

“We’re going to keep going,” says Davis, who designed the program while president of Comox Rotary. “Number five is in place.”

She had hoped to open the four during her year as president, but with COVID-19 and other delays, it took a little longer than planned.

Slight delays for home four aside, the program has been a success. Davis points to other examples in places like Winnipeg or Victoria, with expensive projects that cost many times more per unit than the Courtenay program or that still need locations or are faced with logistical problems such as shared bathroom spaces that can become overrun with drug activity, as clients simply get a room rather than a home of their own. In one case in Canada, homes are being built for $200,000, while in the Comox Valley, the cost runs about $20,000.

What has worked here has been a localized approach with community partners, Davis says. They have found ways to produce the units in affordable ways. Partners such as Maple Pool have been crucial in terms of having caretakers on site while Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society has provided oversight for the process of finding residents.

They have had a couple of turnovers in the units because the residents have passed on, and Davis is happy the program could provide a refuge for these people in their final days.

The occupant of the third unit, which opened in June, has been a real success, as he now has access to shower and trying to go to sleep to the sound of traffic for the first time in many years.

RELATED STORY: Third shipping container home unveiled

Homelessness, Davis says, is a complex problem that has been around for a long time, and in some cases it can affect people tragically even from one major trauma in life.

“Homelessness is not a choice, homelessness is a circumstance,” she says. “There’s no end of ways that we can find ourselves on the slippery slope.”

She hopes the province will get the message that this is not a problem they can simply throw money at, but rather something that is very individualized, with ties to mental health or addiction, and which needs a more personalized, local touch – along the lines of the Courtenay example.

“I wish the people in Victoria would look at what we’re doing,” she says. “We’re making progress against a tsunami.”

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The living space inside the container home. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Kitchen and bathroom space inside home number four. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Home sweet home number four. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Rod McKenzie 9right), Comox Rotary president, provides a cheque of $10,000 for the shipping container home project, as he is joined by Charlene Davis (centre) and Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society’s Sue Finneron. Photo by Mike Chouinard