A group of the city’s homeless, who camped out on the front lawn of City Hall earlier this month, got its chance to speak to city council this week.
Patricia John, who helped arrange the protest which began on the evening of June 4 and broke up June 7, told council at its Monday meeting that the group wants the city to be more involved in the plight of the city’s homeless.
One of their main concerns is the uncertainty surrounding the extreme weather shelter which closed in March.
“The emergency homelessness shelter was full to capacity this past winter, yet we have been told that there is no funding to re-establish the shelter this winter,” John told council. “We want to know if there will be an emergency shelter this winter and where it will be located.”
For the past two years, the temporary shelter has been set up on the empty lot next to the downtown fire hall.
But that’s no longer an option as the city recently swapped that property with Discovery Chiropractic for its land on Fir Street.
Mayor Andy Adams said that council was also told last year by the provincial minister responsible for housing, Rich Coleman, that 2014 would be the last year the province would provide funding for the shelter.
Adams, however, assured John that council would find a way to resurrect the shelter.
“We will work to find a location to get that shelter up for next winter,” Adams said. “I can tell you this council will continue to work with (local) agencies and continue to lobby the provincial government to ensure we have the funds for an emergency shelter this winter. Where that’s going to be, we have a couple of months to figure that out.”
John said the homeless group is also concerned about rumours that plans for a new sobering assessment centre are on hold.
“We have been told that the sobering assessment centre is on hold because of concerns raised by businesses in the area,” John said. “We are concerned that the project will not go ahead.”
The centre, which would not function as an overnight shelter, would assess clients in the middle of their addiction and put them in an interim bed until they’re fit to go to the Salvation Army’s shelter on Evergreen, where all clients must be sober.
Adams told John that while there have been concerns, plans are still going forward.
“As far as council’s concerned, there has been no change,” Adams said. “But I can tell you that for this coming winter it wasn’t in the plans for the sobering assessment centre because the land swap we negotiated won’t be available for well over a year from now.”
Coun. Larry Samson, who is the chair of the city’s public safety sub-committee, assured John that the sobering assessment centre is still a priority.
“You have no better champions in moving this project forward,” Samson said. “It’s brought to our attention every time by the RCMP inspector and the fire chief that this has to be one of our top priorities.
“So I’m not sure where the rumour came from that it was on hold because it’s not on hold for the public safety sub-committee. We are pushing for it, it’s just a matter of how quickly we can get it up and running,” Samson added.
In the meantime, John said the homeless group not only continues to struggle with the loss of the extreme weather shelter but also the elimination of the breakfast program run out of Radiant Life Church.
“Radiant Life Church’s breakfast club program was recently shut down because of a loss of funding,” John said. “The homeless no longer have a place to go in the morning.”
Radiant Life Pastor Art Van Holst said in the past Campbell River Family Services provided $35,000 via the Island Health homelessness initiative funds, and BC Housing chipped in another $35,000. But Van Holst said because last year saw such a mild winter, not every night met the criteria for funding from BC Housing and as a result, only half of that funding came through.
Van Holst said the program costs about $1,500 a month which pays for food, someone to cook the food, and overhead costs such as heating.
“We have had someone come forward who has said they would give us $500 for food so if we had another $1,200 that would be enough to continue the program for the year,” Van Holst told council.
Adams said council will look into the situation.
“It was the one thing that caught us off guard,” Adams said. “Council was not apprised to the breakfast club.”