People working in Campbell River on the homelessness crisis have made a lot of progress since 2021, but also had a few unexpected setbacks.
The year started off well, with the announcement of a working group with the Campbell River Coalition to End Homelessness that would be tasked with identifying needs and to advocating for resources in the community to ensure that people experiencing homelessness have access to the supports they need.
When the pandemic came into full swing, the community was hit hard by the effects. Sue Moen, one of the leadership team on the Coalition, told the Mirror in November that “it’s very difficult to remember what it was like pre-pandemic.
“Our year was fairly similar to other years in our numbers in our turnover at the emergency shelter in utilization of our extreme weather shelter, and in family services as well. But then once the pandemic hit in March, because things constantly change with public health orders, losing jobs and income, more people losing housing, we’ve definitely seen an increase in demand.”
Seeing a need for a coordinated plan of attack, that working group quickly adapted to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, and broke down walls between agencies to ensure further communication and coordination. From that, multiple projects were able to come through, despite the pandemic.
On April 8, the problem was exacerbated by a major fire in an apartment building in Campbell River. Around 85 people were left without homes, and social services scrambled to help find places for those who needed them. As the pandemic raged on, the people who had already been without housing were increasingly vulnerable. Multiple ideas were floated to provide a safe space for these people, including a camp on Homewood Road that would have provided 25 socially-distanced camp sites for people without homes. However, on May 26, after hearing from neighbours in the area, the city cancelled plans to put in a camp.
In July, a bridge housing option was created by B.C. Housing at the former Rosebowl Restaurant. That facility is currently open and is providing homes for 20 people. Those living in the Rosebowl are first in line for another new facility at 580 Dogwood, which is expected to open early in the new year.
A camp on Quinsam Road also caused a stir in the community, city Councillor Ron Kerr speaking in a council meeting about the area in August. The encampment was home to around 20 people at its height. After RCMP visited the area multiple times, an eviction notice was served by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development in early October. Residents were given the option to relocate to Nunns Creek Park within the city limits, but that option would require them to pack up all of their belongings during the day as per city bylaw.
In November, another new facility was opened that would benefit the vulnerable population of Campbell River. A community kitchen has been opened, providing a safe space for people to eat and cook who would otherwise be eating outside on the sidewalk. That facility was blessed by the Laichwiltach First Nation, whose territory it is on, and will be open pending final approvals from Island Health.
Close to the end of 2020, the Coalition to End Homelessness hired a new coordinator, Stefanie Hendrickson, to replace Kristi Schwanicke who will be moving to a new role with Vancouver Island Mental Health Society.
Finally, to end the year, two initiatives were started to make things a bit easier for people without homes in the area. The Quailtown Thrift Store opened its doors to people experiencing homelessness on the second and fourth Monday of every month, offering free shopping to those who needed it most. Another initiative was a project that will provide care packages to people experiencing homelessness in the Campbell River area over the holiday season. That project was started by a grade 1 teacher at Puntledge Park Elementary School in the Comox Valley, and was brought to Campbell River by university student Ally Boyd, who is studying from home in the community.
The Coalition to End Homelessness holds monthly meetings over Zoom, and those interested in taking part can reach out to email@example.com to be added to the mailing list.