The temporary use permit for a 20-bed extreme weather warming shelter at St Andrew’s church on Herbert Street has been denied by the City of Duncan.
The decision at a council meeting Nov. 6 was made after a nearly two-hour-long public debate and discussion.
In 2022, the shelter was open for 24 nights and served 425 people, which was an average of 18 people a night. It would have been funded through BC Housing’s Emergency Weather Response (EWR) program but operated locally by the Lookout Housing and Health Society. The shelters are generally operated overnight for 12 hours.
BC Housing says that some concerns raised last year included loitering in the residential area, garbage on-site, and users of the site being on private property.
Heidi Hartman, BC Housing’s Associate Vice President of Supportive Housing and Homelessness says that they were planning on giving more funding for security and transportation to the site in the hopes of mitigating those issues. However, a decision hadn’t been made as to what that would look like at the time of the vote.
“We’re reviewing these requests on an individual basis,” she says. “In terms of security, it could be a security company providing an extra resource during the time the shelter is open if that’s of benefit to this site.”
As for transportation, Lookout was planning to rent a van to help transport people to and from the site on the days the shelter is needed.
Lookout’s Operations Director for Vancouver Island, Lee King says they’d planned improvements like that to mitigate previous concerns had the permit been given this season.
“We’ve done our homework. We’ve listened,” says King. “We’ve heard the concerns, we’re very attentive to the concerns that have been raised, and we’ve made the changes I believe which address the EWR last year. So this year, I think you will see improvements of what we did last year. ”
King says, “At the end of the day, the most important thing is that we are safeguarding folks from the imminent health dangers of extreme weather.”
Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples says the search for a different location has been exhaustive.
“There have been many discussions, and much work done by many people trying to find alternate locations,” she said. “Every location that anyone emailed us about has been explored more than once, has been explored more than once, and for all different reasons are unavailable.”
Staples spoke in favour of the motion saying that this was the only option available for getting people out of the cold.
“To me, this is an obligation that we have,” she says. “There is this one small chance for 20 people to get off of the street and we have all of these things put in place to support them on those nights.”
The public gallery was filled with citizens, speaking both in favour of and not in favour of having the shelter at the Herbert Street location.
“Denying this emergency shelter is not going to make homeless people go away or disappear from the street, they are there,” spoke Angela in favour of the permit.
Tori Schramstad spoke in favour, saying she was recently homeless.
“I’ve lived in a tent, a camper, my car, and I had someone very close to me almost lose their life in the wintertime. I don’t want to see that again,” she says. “These shelters really do make a difference and we need more.”
Kim MacLean lives nearby. She spoke against the permit, saying that it’s the wrong location for the shelter because there are too many children in the area.
“Our family have experienced break-ins. We’ve experienced our children walking up on people shooting up heroin,” she said. “I’ve called 911 because I thought someone was dead in an overdose and because of fires that have been started.”
Those opposed generally spoke about the need for a shelter but spoke against the location.
“You can’t tell me that there is not going to be loitering everywhere throughout that neighbourhood while the shelter is open or not open,” said Erin O’Keefe-Whiteford who lives nearby. “I do have compassion for both sides, but these people have worked very hard for the neighbourhood that they live in and I think it’s putting other families and kids at risk. It’s just not fair.”
Councillor Gary Bruce spoke against the permit.
“There’s been some wonderful speeches, and all kinds of different things have changed,” says Bruce. “However those are all words. It changes when you get out on the street. I don’t believe any of this will really have any traction, the actual changes we’re making here. I think the people will come up to Herbert Street, [the shelter] will be full. Then what do they do? It’s something that we cannot subject the community to. We must stop and we must vote against this.”