Innovative homeless shelter is back for another winter

Campbell River's converted shipping container used to house the homeless last winter is back for another season

The converted shipping container used to house the homeless last winter is back for another season.

The low-barrier shelter, which sleeps up to 16 people, is currently on the empty lot next to the downtown fire hall waiting to be used.

Radiant Life Church will be responsible for operating the extreme weather shelter, under contract with BC Housing.

Radiant Life Pastor Art van Holst said while BC Housing will provide funding to keep the shelter open on nights when the temperature dips below zero, or on particularly cold windy, rainy or snowy nights, funding is still needed to keep the shelter the rest of the time.

Van Holst wants to have the winter shelter available for the community’s most vulnerable every single night from Nov. 1 to March 31, 2015.

The shelter – a trailer on wheels – was donated to the city last year by Shadow Lines Transportation Group of Langley as a pilot project. The eight-room shelter, with heat and washroom facilities, was expected to be towed away this spring but van Holst said the owner did not have any other requests for the shelter so it was stored in Campbell River. Van Holst said Radiant Life elected to use it again this winter following last year’s success.

“Last year we averaged about 12 (users) a night,” van Holst said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing and it’s better than a cardboard box.”

RCMP reported a reduction in calls for service from typical problem areas after the winter shelter opened last season and there were no deaths among the homeless due to exposure.

Van Holst hopes to continue that success this year. On top of providing the homeless with a place to sleep for the night, nearby Radiant Life Church will again be serving breakfast every morning and dinner in the evening.

“Even if we don’t get the funding to keep the shelter open every night, we will still have breakfast and dinner every night from Nov. 1 to March 31,” van Holst said. Donations have started coming in for the breakfast and dinner programs but the church is still looking for donations to help pay to heat the shelter.

Van Holst said it takes between $25 to $30 to provide heat each night. Last year, a Nanaimo landscaping company working in Campbell River (Easy Living Landscaping) volunteered to provide the heating costs through the winter. Local groups also embraced the shelter, with Southgate Middle School students dropping off 120 gifts for shelter users and the Storm hockey club volunteering its time with landscaping.