Nunns Creek Park will be the location of a temporary warming shelter this winter, following a decision by Campbell River city council.
The decision was made in response to a current shortfall of extreme weather shelter beds in Campbell River, as highlighted by the Campbell River and District Coalition to End Homelessness (CRDCEH). The Salvation Army has provided this service in previous years, but it currently lacks the necessary space (due to decreased occupancy limits) and staff (but continues to operate the Evergreen House Emergency Shelter).
City council approved the proposal on Dec. 7 in a 6-1 vote, with Coun. Kermit Dahl voting in opposition. The shelter will be used as an interim measure, until a permanent indoor location is found. It will otherwise be operational until the end of March 2022.
In the meeting, Dahl said he would oppose the proposal in light of recent violent events in parts of Campbell River.
“We’ve had stabbings in front of the bank, the drug store, the grocery store, in front of the Walmart, and in a bus stop,” he said. “This is completely unacceptable, and our acceptance of this as becoming the norm is completely unacceptable.
“If this moves forward, I hope that the people that do vote in favour of it are willing to accept responsibility for sacrificing Nunns Creek and starting to take ownership of the issues that are going on.”
Coun. Claire Moglove said what the question considered was not crime, which she acknowledged is a worsening problem, but whether council would move to help provide a place where people experiencing homeless can be safe away from the elements.
The temporary shelter will provide about 20 extreme weather shelter beds and occupants a hot meal each night. Providing these spaces is essential to keep people from sleeping overnight outside in damp bedding throughout Campbell River’s cold and wet winter, said Stefanie Hendrickson, CRDCEH coordinator, in an Oct. 19 letter to council.
Plans for the shelter have yet to be finalized. It may feature a large tent with heaters and cots. Alternatively, a group of smaller tents, set up each evening and taken down each morning, could be used instead. Portable washrooms will also be provided on site. There will also be security present when it is in operation.
There are currently encampments in Nunns Creek Park, which has been designated by the city as the location where overnight camping is to be directed. It is the city’s hope that some of the individuals currently occupying these areas will relocate to the new warming centre and that on-site security will alleviate safety concerns, said Peter Wipper, the city’s director of community safety, in the meeting.
The new shelter could increase the number of people residing in Nunns Creek Park, according to the associated city report to council, however.
Coun. Ron Kerr and Mayor Andy Adams said they are concerned about ongoing camping downtown, emphasizing that around the Centennial Building, which houses the art gallery.
While city bylaw enforcement addresses camping at this location (and encourages those campers to move to Nunns Creek, said Wipper), they do not work on evenings and weekends. Despite the city funding overnight security patrols, these have not been active over recent weeks due to staff shortages.
City staff will receive a report each month from site security and will report any concerns to council, following an amendment proposed by Coun. Colleen Evans.
It is expected the set up and operation of the facility will be fully funded through grant funding and donations. Financial support from BC Housing is dependent on a location and a lead organization to host the response.
CRDCEH continues to look for a permanent solution at an indoor setting, said Jason Locke, the city’s long-range planning and sustainability manager.
“Everybody wants an indoor location, including BC Housing,” said Locke.