Plans for a semi-permanent daytime warming centre for homeless people in the Cowichan Community Centre’s parking lot may not be moving forward as the school district blasted the plan and Duncan city officials said other options are being considered.
The City of Duncan’s council was scheduled to debate granting a six-month licence of occupation for the warming centre at the site at its meeting on Jan. 16, but the discussion was postponed until the next council meeting after Mayor Michelle Staples announced that more time is needed to explore other recently identified options for the “Place to Be” project.
The land at the CCC site where the shelter was proposed is jointly owned by the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan, and North Cowichan was also expected to consider a licence of occupation at the site at its next council meeting.
If it proceeds, the “A Place To Be” project would be licensed to the Cowichan Housing Association and a contractor will be brought in to run the program.
The Cowichan Housing Association could not be reached by press time to answer questions about the other options for the site of the project that Staples cited.
The project, wherever it is situated in the region, will be funded through a $624,000 grant provided by the Union of B.C. Municipalities to North Cowichan.
A Place to Be is intended as a pilot project to provide a semi-permanent daytime basic warming and cooling shelter, which would be in a large tent structure that can be moved if required, for people experiencing homelessness.
While pointing out it is not against such projects to help the vulnerable in the community, the Cowichan Valley School District made it clear it is not in favour of placing the warming centre in the parking lot of the community centre.
The school board also expressed ire that it was not informed by the municipalities or the CHA of the plan.
Board chair Cathy Schmidt said in a letter to the two municipalities on behalf of the board that the district has “deep concerns” about the siting for the Place to Be project next to the community centre.
She said the district has partnered with several community groups who are advocating for, and making real change, in the lives of those who are experiencing homelessness, drug addiction, and/or mental health issues and, as a collective, the partners work hard to create a system of supports for those who experience those issues.
“However, our priority is, and will always be, the safety of students, staff, and families in our school communities,” Schmidt said.
“Our board was dismayed by the complete lack of communication or consultation regarding this latest proposal. Allowing a valued partner, and significant landowner, in both the Municipality of North Cowichan and City of Duncan, to be blindsided by this proposal, and to find out from probing questions from the local media is completely unacceptable.”
Schmidt said that as the school district is the property owner of the soon-to-be constructed new Cowichan Secondary School and operator of the current Cowichan Secondary School, the board has grave concerns for the safety of its students, staff, and families if this proposal moves forward.
She said the shelter would be operating 100 metres from the entrance of the new secondary school and less than 200 metres from its current secondary school, as well as the fact that it would be located just over 100 metres away from its childcare centre.
“This proposed warming and cooling shelter will have direct, negative, and lasting effects on the safety of our students, staff and families,” Schmidt said.
“On a daily basis, students, staff and families from Quamichan School, Alexander Elementary, and Wendy’s House Children’s Play and Discovery Centre must navigate the myriad of social issues that have ended up on their doorstep and in their neighbourhood along the York Road and Beverly Street corridors.”
Schmidt said the rush to have this proposal approved, the absolute lack of communication and consultation, and the unaddressed safety concerns created by the proposed location are all of great concern to the board.
“We ask that the location of this (shelter) not be approved for this location, and that any other proposed locations for the shelter which may have direct, negative, or lasting effects on the safety of our students, staff, and families include a robust and open conversation with the board,” she said.