A grass-roots outreach organization that deals with the homeless and people with addictions and mental-health issues has asked the Cowichan Valley Regional District for a temporary variance to begin a pilot project for detox and rehab facilities in the region.
Cheryl Howard, one of the founders of Life on Wheels that is dedicated to helping vulnerable people in the community, told the CVRD board at its meeting on March 8 that the organization is seeking a temporary land-use variance to allow it to move forward with a five-year pilot project that would see a detox and rehab program set up on land in the district that Life on Wheels would buy.
She said the organization has already purchased five RV trailers for homeless people to live in to get them off the street as they go through a treatment program, which would be administered with the assistance of local medical personnel and other support people, and intends to buy five more.
Howard said that while Island Health and other agencies in the Cowichan Valley have tried to show support to the homeless and drug addicted people by providing shelters, apartments, pods, outreach workers and an overdose prevention facility, there is currently no effective detox and rehab facility that will work with people through the whole process of helping them with their issues and getting them off the street permanently.
“Life on Wheels has two years experience now working with the homeless, mentally ill and drug addicted people in the Duncan area,” she said.
“We have experienced shortfalls in communication and support from Island Health in order to get people to detox and rehab. They seem to be struggling to keep up with the demands, perhaps due to short staffing and limited finances. We have had success helping people when we commit to helping them from start to finish.”
Howard said Life on Wheels had already began housing vulnerable people and working with them in RV trailers on 10 acres of land she owns on Riverbottom Road, near Sahtlam, but the CVRD had received two complaints that she was breaking bylaws by doing so.
“I didn’t realize that I was breaking the law, so we decided to back up and find out what’s allowed and what’s not,” she said.
“If the CVRD allows the variance, we would purchase acreage to put RV trailers on and we would have services available for septic, water and hydro. Washrooms and laundry facilities would be built on the property. Community gardens and a meeting place for fellowship, education and vocational training are all possibilities with fundraising.”
Howard said Life on Wheels is not a registered non-profit and, so far, has not started any fundraising initiatives since it began and depends on contributions from the community for its operations.
“We just don’t have the time to fundraise because we’re always really busy,” she said.
“We spend all our time on the streets trying to help people that have fallen through the cracks.”
Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples suggested that it would be in Life on Wheel’s best interests to work with other groups in the community that are also working with homeless and opioid issues.
“It’s good to have a unified voice when asking for assistance,” she said.
CVRD Chair Aaron Stone said homelessness and drug issues are being grappled with at the CVRD table and other tables across the province, and he’s hopeful that these discussions might help some temporary initiatives that are being put forward to try and deal with them, including Life on Wheels.
He said he believes there could be opportunities for land-use variances and they would be considered by the CVRD after Life on Wheels purchases the land and makes applications.
“We wish you all the best,” Stone said.