Efforts being made to keep homeless shelter open every night

Regional District has pledged financial support to help keep the city’s extreme weather shelter open as homelessness on the rise

The Strathcona Regional District has pledged financial support to help keep the city’s extreme weather shelter open every night this winter as the number of homeless continues to rise.

Paul Mason of Campbell River Family Services, which manages the emergency shelter, said there are about 52 unsheltered people on the streets – an increase from the 37 reported in 2009.

The shelter, which this year is located behind Radiant Life Church on Cypress Street, can sleep 16 people in eight rooms. Mason said more can be accommodated if necessary.

“We try not to turn anyone away,” said Mason who added that people are coming from beyond Campbell River to use the shelter which provides the homeless with a heated room for the night, as well as a warm breakfast and dinner. “They’re coming from Courtenay, Alert Bay, Port McNeill. A survey showed a lot of transient people, as well as people coming from Quadra to use our shelter. So it’s not just Campbell River people, it encompasses the whole area.”

Which was why Mason approached the Strathcona Regional District at its board meeting Thursday afternoon.

“Last year you guys were so kind and gave us $15,000 for the operation of the shelter,” Mason said. “I’m here to ask for the same thing, if possible.”

Area D Director Brenda Leigh said she regarded the issue as “a bit of an emergency” and didn’t want to wait until budget planning to commit to funding.

“For God’s sake, let’s get them some shelter, let’s get them off the streets,” Leigh said. “I don’t think we need to wait for another report.”

The rest of the board agreed and voted to contribute $10,000 of its Community Health Network funds, as well as $2,000 from general administration.

Leigh said she would make up the remainder using her grant-in-aid budget for Area D once the funds are available in January. The City of Campbell River has also provided funding for the shelter – $15,000 to install a more efficient heating system and to re-paint the inside and outside of the shelter which Campbell River Family Services recently bought from the owner for $1. The shelter is valued at between $90,000 to $100,000.

But Mason said they’re still looking for donations to sponsor a room, so that the shelter can remain open every night until March 31.

BC Housing does provide some funding to keep the shelter open but only on nights when the temperature falls below 0 degrees Celsius or if it’s an especially windy night.

Mason said last winter – which was particularly mild – BC Housing only made up 25 to 35 per cent of the shelter’s operating funds, the rest was made up through donations in order to keep the shelter open every night.

“When the shelter is open every night, they know where they can come to,” Mason said. “When the shelter is closed, they disperse out into the community and you could lose a few people that way. Over the last two winters, we haven’t had anyone perish on our streets. That’s why it’s important to have it open every night.”

Mason said $6,000 will sponsor a room in the shelter. As of last Thursday, about three and a half rooms were spoken for, not including the funding from the regional district.

Mason said Island Health provided the funding for one of the rooms, while private donors from the community came forward to fund the other two spaces.