Mayor to test homeless shelter

The shelter is actually a self-contained unit built from a steel shipping container

For one night Mayor Walter Jakeway will sleep in a homeless shelter.

He will be joined by Paul Mason and Camille Lagueux of Campbell River Family Services which will be co-ordinating the Extreme Weather Shelter this year.

The shelter is actually a self-contained unit built from a steel shipping container. It’s divided into eight double-occupancy rooms – one of which is wheelchair accessible – with heating and electricity as well as one shared bathroom.

“I myself am going to use it, Camille is going to use it, the mayor’s going to use it. But we’re going to lock his door so he can’t escape ’til the next morning,” Mason said. “I’m going to actually have my daughter sleep above me (on the top bunk) and my dog because we just want to show that this is something we can be proud of, what Campbell River can be proud of.”

The unit was built in Langley, first used in Coquitlam and most recently helped house flooding victims in High River, Alta.

The shelter offers a place for the homeless to go and get a good night’s sleep in a warm, dry bed instead of sleeping in a loading dock or the entrance to the court house, said Jakeway.

Mason, a program supervisor with Family Services, said the unit arrived in Campbell River on Saturday but the society needs a place to park it. The plan is to put the shelter on a city-owned vacant lot on Dogwood Street next to the fire hall but the society needs the city’s permission before the cold and rainy nights blow in.

“The biggest thing is the time constraints,” Mason said. “As was apparent last weekend, when storms hit Campbell River they hit pretty fast and pretty fierce. We’re expected to be open Nov. 1 and that’s according to BC Housing.”

A staff report, however, is expected to come back for consideration at the next council meeting, on Oct. 22.

In the meantime, Mason said he has been canvassing nearby businesses and organizations and so far all have been supportive, including the fire hall which would be next door to the shelter.

Mason pointed out that it would not be a large group of people using the shelter each night.

“We’re not talking 50 or 60 people, we’re talking a core group of homeless individuals that make up a maximum of 10 to 11 people who hang around the downtown – it’s not a big demographic, unfortunately it’s a very visible demographic,” Mason said. “The clientele that this unit will be serving are the clientele that do utilize whatever doorways, alcoves that we have in this city, that unfortunately end up being apprehended by the local law enforcement, taken up to emergency, being assessed, taken back and put into city cells which is a huge financial drain on our resources.”

The extreme weather shelter is also low-barrier, meaning even those who are impaired are welcome.

Currently, only individuals not under the influence of drugs or alcohol can use the Salvation Army’s Evergreen House shelter.

Van Holst said that often leaves people out in the cold.

“By their own admission in 2012, over 180 people were denied entry to Evergreen shelter, most often because of their level of intoxication,” Van Holst wrote in a letter to council. “The importance of a downtown low barrier extreme weather shelter cannot be overstated.”

For the past several years the Salvation Army has operated the downtown extreme weather shelter out of its Lighthouse Centre. However, Mason said in an oversight by BC Housing, the organization was funding a portion of the shelter’s operating costs when it should have only provided the funding when Evergreen House was at capacity; Mason said in the last few years Evergreen House was typically 40 to 50 per cent full.

So this year the responsibility for the extreme weather shelter was given to Family Services which enlisted the help of Radiant Life Church.

Radiant life will provide staff to supervise the shelter which is expected to be open Nov. 1 to March 31, 2014 from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.  The church will also serve a hot breakfast in the mornings at 6:30 a.m. The shelter will be gated and locked up during the day, and opened again each night at 7 p.m.