Mayor: hiding the homeless sends ‘terrible signal’

A winter shelter for the homeless will be set up for the next five months beside the downtown Fire Hall on Dogwood Street

A winter shelter for the homeless will be set up for the next five months beside the downtown Fire Hall on Dogwood Street – a location highly visible to the community.

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, Coun. Andy Adams asked why the shelter – a mobile unit made from a steel shipping container – couldn’t stay where it’s currently sitting which is in front of Radiant Life Church. The church is tucked in behind the fire hall and next to Coast Realty on Cypress Street.

That didn’t sit well with Coun. Ron Kerr who took exception to what he perceived as an implication that the homeless should be out of sight. Kerr said he believes having the shelter on Dogwood will be good for the community.

“I believe this addresses one of the issues here of not hiding the shelter away but putting it in the open where we can all be proud of it, where Campbell River can be proud of it and our efforts to house the homeless,” said Kerr who recently canvassed nearby businesses. “With the exception of two businesses, I had overwhelming support. Most people realize that the homeless are living in that neighbourhood and what we can do to improve their lives is good for all of us.”

Most of the businesses support having the shelter nearby, including the fire department. However, Corrado Ventures Incorporated which operates Domcor traffic control and Safety Net Security as well as Coast Realty Group have some concerns.

Patrick Corrado, the chief operating officer of Corrrado Ventures, asked council to reject the location because it’s using the spot as overflow parking for its employees and customers. Domcor was also planning to use the overflow parking for those attending its recently added full-service training school’s day and night classes.

Coast Realty manager Travis Stevenson said he’s concerned about his employes’ and clients safety with having the shelter nearby but said he is supportive of the location for the short term.

Taking those concerns into account, Adams tried twice at Tuesday’s meeting to get a straight answer as to why the shelter couldn’t stay where it is now.

“I’m not sure I understand (Kerr’s) comment of having it visible when it’s going to be put behind a fence to meet the aesthetics,” Adams said. “I think this is a really good initiative (and) the implication of wanting to tuck it away is certainly not the case. I just asked a question as to what was wrong with the location it’s currently in.”

Radiant Life Church Pastor Art Van Holst, who was sitting in the public gallery, responded that the unit is taking up 10 of the church’s parking spaces sitting where it is.

As for the fencing, Kerr agreed it does partially obscure the shelter.

“I agree with you that it’s not visible (but) there will be a sign there advertising it as the homeless shelter and I do feel this is something the city can be proud of. It doesn’t need to hide in a back alley or in the back of a park.”

Mayor Walter Jakeway agreed.

“We’re not ashamed of these people – these are our citizens,” Jakeway said. “But putting it in a back lane, we’re sending a terrible signal that we’re ashamed.”

Jakeway added he’s confident that if problems arise, the shelter could be relocated.

Council also agreed the spot beside the fire hall will be a temporary location and a new location will be considered for next season.

That idea came from Coun. Claire Moglove who was left conflicted at Tuesday’s meeting.

“This is a way to alleviate the situation for the most vulnerable in our community even though…I don’t believe the location being suggested is the best location long-term,” Moglove said. “If it wasn’t for the fact that in order to get funding from BC Housing you have to be operational by November 1, I might not have approved this particular location but the fact of the matter is it has to be done. If there are problems, council will deal with them.”

Moglove said her concern with the location is that having a homeless shelter in such a busy area is counter-productive to the development of downtown.

The shelter will be open Nov. 1-March 31, 2014 from 7 p.m.-7 a.m. every night. Radiant Life Church will have at least one worker supervising the shelter through the night. The shelter can accommodate 16 people, comes equipped with heat and electricity and has one shared bathroom.