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No deaths, less calls for police help after the opening of Campbell River homeless shelter

The city’s low-barrier homeless shelter will be open for another month.

And that’s not the only good news.

According to Campbell River RCMP, calls for service from problem areas has decreased since the shelter opened last October and this winter there were no deaths of homeless people due to exposure.

“It’s the greatest measure of the shelter’s success,” said RCMP Insp. Lyle Gelinas.

That wasn’t the case in recent years. From January 2011 to February 2012, five middle-aged homeless men were found dead in Campbell River during freezing winter days when there wasn’t a low-barrier shelter.

For many years the Salvation Army has operated a shelter for homeless people, but guests are required to be sober when they arrive. And that’s a big barrier for the homeless who have issues with either substance addiction, alcoholism, mental health, or all the above.

Last October, the 16-bed, low-barrier shelter opened beside the downtown firehall, a pilot program operated by Radiant Life Church in partnership with Campbell River Family Services. According to Gelinas, there was an initial spike of nine calls for service from the shelter when it first opened. While it is low-barrier, there are some rules, and it only took a short time before the nightly guests complied.

Since November, there’s been about three calls a month for police assistance and that’s not the only drop-off seen by Mounties.

Specifically, Gelinas cited four problem locations: 1300 block Cedar St., 400 block 11th Ave., 1300 block Shoppers Row and 1400 block Dogwood St. Last October, police responded to 33 calls from those locations, but by February the number dropped to 13.

“It’s less than half…there’s certainly less activity in those areas,” noted Gelinas, who added there’s also been fewer reports of public drunkenness.

The inspector also shared his data with Family Services which is pleased with the numbers, “A shelter is good reason for the reduction in calls,” said representative Paul Mason.

Mason also tipped his hat to city council which recently okayed the shelter remaining open till the end of April; it was due to close at the end of March.

Nevertheless, the shelter – a converted shipping container on wheels that can be hauled away by a semi-truck – was donated by Shadow Lines Transportation Group of Langley and will leave the city at the conclusion of the pilot project.

The long-term goal, said Mason, is to have a permanent low-barrier shelter that also serves as a “sobering centre.” Family Services is currently checking out some downtown locations, but long-term funding could be an issue.

“We need a 24/7 facility…we’ve exposed the gap in service and what we need in Campbell River,” Mason said.

Gelinas said the low-barrier shelter has the full support of the RCMP and if a permanent home isn’t found in time for next winter, he would like to see a temporary shelter open sooner.

“Overall we’re extremely supportive of the shelter,” he said Wednesday. “My goal is to see a sobering assessment centre where they can have medical help and assistance from BC Housing or mental health…it’s the moral thing to do.”

The last piece of good news was the final tally from the city’s first-ever Coldest Night of the Year walk on Feb. 22. The goal was to raise $25,000 to support initiatives to help homeless people, but, as usual, the good folks of Campbell River outdid themselves and raised $33,381.

“That’s fantastic. It’s so good to see all the community support,” said Mason.

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