The Strathcona Regional District will not be taking on the responsibilty of operating homeless shelters in the area, leaving the job up to either the City of Campbell River or the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness.
In the first meeting of the newly-elected board, directors were asked by the Coalition to End Homelessness whether the regional district would be able to take on operating homeless shelters under contract with the province. The coalition has been trying to find a host for the shelter over the past two years, but due to either staff issues or space issues, has been unable to secure a site for the shelters. The contracts would be for both a temporary shelter that operates nightly through the winter and an emergency shelter which would only open during extreme weather events.
“Until 2021, Campbell River non-profit organizations have provided these services. As the population of unhoused individuals and families increases, our partner organizations no longer have the physical or human resources to open these critical services on their own,” said the letter from the coalition to the SRD asking for assistance.
To take on the role, the first step would be to direct staff to report back on any obligations and costs associated with operating homeless shelters, but seven directors — Campbell River directors Doug Chapman, Kermit Dahl, Ron Kerr, Ben Lanyon and Susan Sinott, Electoral Area A director Gerald Whalley and Tahsis director Martin Davis — voted against moving forward with a report on the matter, and instead chose to tell the coalition that the SRD won’t be taking on the responsibility.
Campbell River Director Kermit Dahl was concerned about the use of the community centre earlier this year as an extreme weather shelter, saying that “each year the SRD comes to the city and wants to use the community centre… I was hoping that maybe something had happened over the last year, but clearly nothing has,” he said. “It gets cold every winter… we’ve had 11 months to find a solution and haven’t done anything.”
The coalition is not a legal entity that can apply for funding, SRD strategic initiatives manager Renee Laboucane said. Chief Administrative Officer David Leitch said that the SRD does not operate a service, though protective services coordinator Shaun Koopman often spearheads efforts to find shelter when people living outdoors are in danger due to the weather.
“We don’t operate that service,” Leitch said. “There needs to be some discussion about this, the service is not being provided … We’re just trying to put our finger in the dyke. We’re happy to do it for a number of reasons. We may be in the city, but it gets cold in Area B, C, and D too.”
Other directors agreed with Leitch, saying that a report would look at the ability to provide the service for other parts of the regional district, not just Campbell River. However, the majority of the directors felt it would be better left to either the city or the coalition.
After the motion to proceed with a report was defeated, Dahl said that there has been “11 months to find a solution,” and that “nobody has done anything.”
“We’re happy to do something,” Leitch said. “But you’ve just told us not to do anything. So when there’s not a solution, we can agree that it’s either the City of Campbell River or the Coalition that has to do something.”