Council decision could leave some homeless people out in the cold

The Salvation Army’s Extreme Weather Shelter likely won’t be open every night this winter

The Salvation Army’s Extreme Weather Shelter likely won’t be open every night this winter after a city committee turned down the Salvation Army’s request for funding.

The non-profit Christian organization, which runs a cold weather shelter for the city’s most vulnerable, applied for a $45,000 Community Partnership grant-in-aid to extend its shelter hours but was denied because of a city policy.

Non-profits which also receive funding from other levels of government or government agencies, in this case BC Housing, are not eligible for a grant-in-aid from the city.

That’s not sitting well with Coun. Ron Kerr, who tried to get the Salvation Army as well as the city’s Community Homelessness Coalition on the grant recipient list, which includes several arts and culture organizations such as the Tidemark Theatre Society, the museum, and the Arts Council.

“I’m completely in favour of supporting arts and culture in Campbell River. It contributes to quality of life and tourism but I’m extremely disappointed that because of our policy, our social organizations are not included on this list,” Kerr said at Tuesday night’s council meeting. “I think both of these are worthy and should be included, especially the cold weather shelter. There’s a desperate need. These citizens are our most vulnerable and to ignore them is morally wrong.”

Coun. Mary Storry, a non-voting liaison to the Community Partnership Committee which is tasked with reviewing the grant-in-aid applications, said it came down to guidelines.

“Certainly the Community Partnership Committee spent a lot of time discussing these two items but it was quite clear those didn’t fall into the policy that the Community Partnership Committee acted upon,” said Storry, who noted it would be more appropriate to discuss funding for the shelter and the Homelessness Coalition during the 2013 budget deliberations, set to begin in December.

For now, the Salvation Army is proceeding under the assumption the extreme weather shelter will only be open on nights the temperature falls below 0 degrees Celsius – the only time BC Housing will provide funding for the shelter to operate. Money goes towards a number of things, including providing clients with a mat to sleep on, a warm meal, and trained paid staff to operate the shelter.

But Jakeway has said “the homeless don’t have a thermometer. They don’t know when it’s below 0 degrees C.” He said the danger level for the city’s most vulnerable is still high even when the mercury doesn’t dip below freezing.

“The problem is, (last year) we had two people die when it was below 0 because you can still die of exposure,” Jakeway said. “It’s most important that the homeless people know where to go even if it’s plus one, plus two, or plus three. Especially because you get wet. So for the winter months, it needs to be open everyday.”

In the end, council chose to defer the issue of funding to both the Salvation Army and the Homelessness Coalition to the 2013 budget planning discussions. City Manager Andy Laidlaw said the city does have more than $300,000 provided to council for “this type of function” and shelter operations would fall within the grant guidelines. Council will also look at the possibility of providing $20,000 to the Homelessness Coalition, on top of the $319,644 in VIHA funding that the city allocated to the coalition, to build a 30-unit co-ed supportive housing facility.

Coun. Claire Moglove, though, said she doesn’t believe the city should have to fund either of the two groups and that the responsibility for funding social programs lies with the province.

“There is constant downloading from the provincial government onto municipalities,” Moglove said. “Shelter and affordable housing is a provincial responsibility. We can’t continually increase our payments to groups when those groups should be funded by the province.”