When there’s nowhere else to go, the sheltered wheelchair ramp at the Campbell River Courthouse is a “choice” spot to spend the night.
And if that’s already taken, the homeless might opt for the caves just below the museum, the woods of Nunns Creek Park or behind Discovery Harbour Mall – anywhere to keep dry and out of the wind.
That’s the living reality for a small group of people who can’t go the Salvation Army’s Evergreen Shelter because they’re impaired and the downtown extreme weather shelter isn’t open.
With the rainy season nearing and the nights becoming colder, the time is now to provide proper shelter for those who “fall between the cracks.”
“We don’t have much time,” says Paul Mason.
Mason is a program supervisor at Campbell River Family Services Society and a former volunteer on the city’s Homelessness Task Force. He’s also been a long-time advocate of creating low-barrier shelters in the city, particularly for men.
“We have Palmer Place and Rose Harbour for single women and children, but there’s very, very little for men,” he says.
He’s hoping that changes soon and one of the temporary solutions being looked at is a secure shelter built from a steel shipping container.
It’s still just an option which may seem out of line given the city’s recent harping about shipping containers on residential and commercial properties, however, they’re making a difference for the homeless in other cities.
Calgary used such portable shelters recently to house flood victims and Shadow Lines Transportation Group of Langley is building them to order for the Lower Mainland.
The company is converting 40-foot shipping containers into temporary homeless shelters that feature eight rooms that sleep two, a furnace, and a wheel-accessible washroom with hot and cold water. The shelter is also on wheels and can be hauled away by truck.
For Family Services, the important aspect is the shelter is low-barrier. In other words, people who are homeless and impaired – which isnt uncommon – have a safe place to stay the night.
“What we’re offering is an alternative,” says Camille Lagueux, executive director at Family Services. “You’re primary need is shelter and once you have that, you can start dealing with other issues.”
Family Services has the money to create a temporary shelter. It recently received $310,000 for the shelter and to create long-term housing solutions for those who are homeless.
The money came from the Vancouver Island Health Authority more than two years ago, but had been sitting in trust with local government until an adequate solution and organization could be found.
Earlier this month, the city chose Family Services because, as Mayor Walter Jakeway says, it’s a “one-stop shop” that can co-ordinate with other services in the city.
The immediate need is the temporary shelter and Family Services is working closely with council and other groups to make sure they get it right.
“We’re looking for a downtown location because that’s where the people are,” says Mason. “We want this to be something that everyone can take pride in.”
The longer-term goal for Family Services is to create second-stage housing for men who are coming out of drug and alcohol treatment programs.
“At the end of 28 days, where do they go?” asks Mason. “When you’re living on welfare, you get $375 a month for shelter. I challenge you to find secure shelter in this city for that much.”
According to Family Services, there are 35-40 people in the city who have no home and no where to go. The rain is expected to start today and Mason is hopeful a decision can soon be reached to provide a temporary shelter.
“It’s the humane thing to do – there needs to be a safety net,” he says.