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‘Focused on solutions’: Concerns about Courtenay’s homelessness situation escalate

Mayor, MLA acknowledge problem, resources being marshalled

Jenny Deters is at her wits’ end.

The owner/operator of Design Therapy Inc. on Fifth Street in Courtenay came to work the morning of March 29, to find her sign had been defaced.

She took to social media to express her dismay in a public, shareable post.

“Feeling so defeated today,” she posted on Facebook. “We have worked so hard in the last 11 years to make this business a part of our community. We donate to all of the local charities (literally we haven’t said no to even one in 11 years), we are a living wage employer, and we LOVE our Downtown. We have had vandalism before but this hits hard… Today might be the first day that I am genuinely sad to go to work.”

Deters is not alone in her frustration.

Business owners and residents alike are becoming increasingly vocal about the societal unrest in Courtenay - particularly in the downtown core.

Much of the frustration has been directed at Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells.

“It’s been a tumultuous few weeks, for sure,” he said. “A lot of people are frustrated, and if I had the power, money, and land to do what people think I could do, maybe I could do something, but yeah. I think that’s the misalignment, but all things being considered… I try to maintain my positivity as much as possible, and really try to stay focused on solutions.”

$7.6 million windfall

When it comes to money, the city received somewhat of a windfall in March, when the provincial government distributed $1 billion to municipalities, with many options for its use.

Courtenay received $7.655 million from that fund, which could go a long way to alleviating homelessness in the city, if the money can be used for that purpose.

Wells said he and staff are still determining any restrictions on how the money can be spent.

When contacted by the Record, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs clarified the qualifications for use.

“Grants from the Growing Communities Fund may be used to directly construct affordable housing when that housing is owned by a local government or a wholly local government-owned subsidiary like a housing corporation,” reads the statement.

“Grants may also be used to reduce the development finance costs that a developer of affordable housing not owned by a local government may need to pay. These may include development cost charges or subdivision servicing charges payable or similar costs.”

Pilot project coming

One source of action the city is taking to help increase safety and security in Courtenay is a pilot project with the RCMP, where a foot patrol will be added to the existing police force.

“We have been working on a pilot project - myself and (Comox Valley RCMP detachment commander) Insp. Kurvers on increasing foot patrols” said Wells. “It is probably not going to start until the May long weekend - it takes time to get … our ducks in a row - but the city is going to be spending extra money, specifically for foot patrols between the May long weekend and September long weekend, really focusing on the critical times, and the critical locations. So they are providing the extra police force, which will be in addition to the extra bylaw officer that we have now approved.

“So this is to provide that comfort to people that we are going to do our best to get as many RCMP officers on the street as possible.”

There is also a motion to get a community safety office operating somewhere in or near the downtown core.

The Record has reached out to Kurvers for more information on this pilot project.

Courtenay problems magnified

Wells said the recently completed Point In Time count will give his staff a clearer picture as to how the city matches up, per capita, with other cities on the Island, such as Nanaimo, or Campbell River.

He said the Courtenay numbers are inflated compared to other municipalities in the Comox Valley. Courtenay is the hub and the municipality with all the available resources for the most vulnerable; resources such as a mental health centre, the Connect Centre, the soup kitchen, etc.

“All the services for folks who are suffering from a whole host of issues are concentrated in downtown Courtenay, so you can go to Comox, or Cumberland, where there really aren’t the same level of services - or really, any services, compared to downtown Courtenay - and you are going to see a lot less (visible homelessness),” he said.

“That said, I want to give kudos to how the whole region is working together … from the other municipalities, and the regional district, everybody realizes that this is a team effort, to work on it.”

Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna Rae Leonard released a written statement on March 27, acknowledging the problems in Courtenay, stating that she is “prioritizing solutions that meet everyone’s needs.”

The Record reached out to Leonard, asking to expand on that statement, and inform the constituents what specific solutions she is prioritizing. She has yet to respond.

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Terry Farrell

About the Author: Terry Farrell

Terry returned to Black Press in 2014, after seven years at a daily publication in Alberta. He brings 14 years of editorial experience to Comox Valley Record...
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