The remaining occupants of the temporary homeless tenting sites in the Cowichan region are expected to soon be living in winterized quarters.
John Horn, co-chair of the COVID-19 Vulnerable Population Cowichan Task Force, said a federal grant has been applied for to create better shelters for those remaining in the region’s tenting sites, and he’s confident the funding will get the green light.
He said he expects to hear whether the grant is approved by this weekend.
“We intend to replace the tents with eight-by-eight wooden structures that are insulated and have baseboard heating,” Horn said. “It’s starting to get pretty cold to be living in a tent.”
BC Housing and a number of other organizations announced in May that they would provide funding for the Cowichan Task Force to create temporary accommodations for the homeless in the Valley for 30 days during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
BC Housing has extended the funding to keep the sites running a number of times since then, with the current deadline scheduled for the end of March.
Originally, there were five tenting sites across the Cowichan Valley, but Horn said there are only two currently in operation, with 34 people staying in a Duncan hotel.
He said there are 12 people currently at the tenting site on Government Street known as “The Mound” which is owned by Cowichan Tribes, and another 12 at a city-owned lot on St. Julien Street in Duncan.
“There were only two or three remaining at the site at Fuller Lake Arena, so we moved them to a hotel,” Horn said.
“It’s expensive to pay for security at that site for so few people.”
Horn said the site in Ladysmith was closed, with its residents moving into the regular winter shelter across the street, and the women staying at the site behind the Cowichan Community Centre have been moved to the newly revamped women’s emergency shelter nearby.
He said the Cowichan Task Force hopes to keep the funding in place for the existing sites and those staying in hotels until the approximately 100 supportive housing units that are planned for the region for people experiencing, or at risk of homelessness, in the Cowichan Valley are in place so that the people won’t have to return to the streets.
BC Housing has acquired two sites — 2983 Drinkwater Rd. in North Cowichan and 260 White Rd. in Duncan — to develop what the agency describes as “safe, secure housing with wraparound supports”.
The housing on the two sites, which will be constructed by the Lookout Housing and Health Society which has been selected by Island Health to provide harm reduction services in the Cowichan Valley, was originally scheduled to be completed this fall but it has been delayed until June or July.
Horn said the Cowichan Task Force has applied to BC Housing to extend the funding again for the tent sites beyond March 31 to when the supportive housing units are ready to be occupied, but because of the recent provincial election and the shuffling of government ministers it is taking the application more time to go through the approval process.