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Shelter closes, but now what?

An Abbotsford police officer checks out a shelter room during a delegation visit to Campbell River in January. - Paul Rudan/Mirror file
An Abbotsford police officer checks out a shelter room during a delegation visit to Campbell River in January.
— image credit: Paul Rudan/Mirror file

The downtown shelter for the homeless is now closed and that has left some people looking for cover.

“We’ve already heard complaints about people sleeping in bushes near their business,” says Paul Mason of Campbell River Family Services.

It was lot different this past fall and winter with the arrival of the portable homeless shelter that was set up beside the downtown fire hall.

The converted shipping container slept up to 16 people in eight rooms, was heated, had a washroom and an outdoor lockup for their belongings. It was monitored and managed by members of the Radiant Life Community Church, located across the street where guests could get breakfast and dinner.

From Nov. 1 to April 30, the shelter was used 1,746 times, averaging 9-10 people a night.

The low-barrier shelter also allowed for people to stay the night if they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And by staying at the shelter, notes Mason, it’s easier to start a dialogue with them to get help and assistance.

The most important aspect was to provide the homeless with shelter during the cold months, but the community benefited as well. The shelter was endorsed by Campbell River RCMP and the number of police call-outs to the downtown area fell by more than 60 per cent while the shelter was open, particularly at nights.

There were other benefits as well, says Mason, such as fewer callouts for firefighters and ambulance paramedics, and fewer visits to the hospital emergency room.

“When it first opened there was some resistance,” says Mason. “But later we took a general survey and the downtown businesses really started to embrace the shelter.”

In fact, many people, groups and businesses supported the shelter through donations of cash, clothing, food and fuel. They also donated materials for fencing and landscaping.

“The outcomes were all very positive and this didn’t cost local taxpayers a dime,” states Mason.

The problem, he adds, is there’s little cash for another cold-weather shelter and there’s a bigger need for a year-round shelter and sobering centre. The Campbell River Homelessness Coalition continues to work on this issue.

“Right now there’s nothing for next year. This was a one-off pilot project,” says Mason. “People who are homeless need somewhere to go downtown. The biggest complaint we hear is they’re hanging out at the library and community centre, but where else are they going to go when it’s windy, cold and raining?”

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