The Strathcona Regional District is starting work on a regional strategy for warming centres that would help shelter people in need during extreme weather events.
After getting direction from the board earlier this winter, SRD staff have come back with an initial report on the feasibility of setting up such a service. The service would be regional in scope, and would be applicable to people everywhere in the regional district, not just in municipal areas. However, how a service would work is still unknown, as is whether or not it will be implemented in the first place.
“There are individuals living in tents, vehicles, and boats throughout the region,” said SRD strategic initiatives manager Renee Laboucane. “In extreme hot or cold weather, these individuals are at further risk.”
At present, the SRD does have the ability to open emergency warming stations. It did so in January, 2022, when a snow storm wiped out power for Tahsis, Zeballos and neighbouring communities. However for emergency overnight shelters there is currently nothing in place at a governmental level.
Some directors would like to keep it that way. Electoral Area A director Gerald Whalley said that there already are organizations that can do this kind of work.
“I believe that these kind of Endeavors that we’re contemplating here are inadequate because they really don’t solve any of the underlying problems, they rather exacerbate (them)” he said. “free government accommodation without any accountability whatsoever just simply advertises pretty quickly on social media that Campbell River should be the immediate destination of every troubled soul.
“I think that we would be much better positioned as the regional district to provide the funding to an existing organization with the expertise to provide these kind of services … than to try and reinvent the wheel,” he said. “I believe that private organizations can do this better and cheaper and the government probably should be the last people in order to operate these services.”
However, Zeballos director Julie Colburne said that many of the private organizations do not operate in smaller communities, leaving people to have to either go without services or move to Campbell River.
“Sometimes those service providers aren’t in the community and they are in the larger centers like Campbell River,” she said. “Although lots of our vulnerable people are here (in Campbell River),we do have vulnerable populations still in our rural communities. That kind of falls to the municipality.”
Director Martin Davis, who is also mayor of Tahsis — which was affected by the storm of early 2022 — felt that financial support from the regional district in the form of a service would be helpful.
“We certainly did get assistance from the regional district and that was wonderful, but we ended up uh having to cover off some more costs for our community of 400,” he said. “About a quarter of our community ended up living in the rec center for a week.”
Campbell River Director Ron Kerr suggested that the service could help alleviate the burden placed on the Campbell River community.
“I think that you know having a regional strategy is extremely important you know year round I’m not just talking about extreme emergencies but a strategy that can can take care of our regional citizens and and not put all the pressure on Campbell River to solve it,” he said.
The solution might be to look to the south, namely the Comox Valley Regional District. Area D director John Rice suggested reaching out to the CVRD, citing a successful model in that area.
“You have all of the Electoral areas you have Cumberland Comox and Courtney all contributing to these two services and what they do is just collect the money and then they go to all of the outside agencies and say bring us a budget tell us what you would like to do and then that’s how the money’s given,” he said. “It keeps them at an arm’s length it allows them to generate some funds but it’s turning everything back over to the people that know how to actually get things done so I think it’s well worth it to actually take a look.”