Courtenay council gave the green light Monday to allow the Connect Warming Centre (685 Cliffe Ave.) to continue operating as an emergency overnight shelter from April 1-30. The licence had originally expired at the end of March, but BC Housing secured funding for another month during the provincial state of emergency.
The centre supports individuals experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness.
The Comox Valley Transition Society — a member agency of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness — has been providing shelter beds as per BC Housing’s Emergency Weather Response program. Since opening Feb. 12, all eight beds have been filled each night, for a total of 302 stays. On many evenings, people have slept outside the building because the shelter has been full.
“Being able to provide additional emergency shelter has made a significant impact on the well-being of those who access the beds,” coalition co-ordinator Andrea Cupelli states in a letter to council.
Manno Theos — the lone member of council opposed to extending the licence — said there is a fine line between compassion and people living in fear. He said there is a contingent of people in the area who are living in fear due to council’s decisions.
“We’re putting people that are just trying to live their lives in a position where they’re frightened to go to work, they’re frightened to consume,” Theos said at committee of the whole March 29. “This has been, in many ways, a bit of a disaster.”
The coalition has its eye on a space at 239 Puntledge Rd., beside the CVTS Too Good to be Threw thrift store, to continue operating Connect for the duration of the state of emergency.
“I can’t see moving to another location if it continues in this direction to be something positive at all,” said Theos, who knows of a Connect patron with mental health issues who has been beaten and robbed at the warming centre. “Things need to change.”
Mayor Bob Wells said Connect has provided services and treatment that would not otherwise be available to help people who struggle with addictions and mental health issues. He added that a criminal element will always be evident, regardless of location.
Coun. Doug Hillian said the warming facility has operated for several months, only to face challenges in recent weeks.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us to allow that process to carry forward, and not cut and run at the first sign of challenges dealing with an incredibly difficult problem to resolve,” Hillian said.
He notes some Connect staff members have occasionally worked overnight shifts in order to make the program happen. He believes council needs to support their efforts by providing additional supports, including police and bylaw, to bring about improved behaviour at the site.
“They (CVTS) are making every effort to be the best neighbours they possibly can within their control,” said Kate O’Connell, director of corporate support services. “I ask for everyone’s patience and understanding.”
If any issues arise, she said to contact the RCMP or to email email@example.com
Staff will prepare a report for council regarding the request to allow an overnight COVID emergency shelter to operate temporarily at #2-239 Puntledge Rd. starting in May.