Town offers education centre as interim refugee housing

Officials with the Town of Lake Cowichan are willing to look into housing refugees on a temporary basis.

The town has responded to a request for refugee housing ideas

Officials with the Town of Lake Cowichan are willing to look into housing refugees on a temporary basis if they’re plan is deemed fit to do so.

Mayor Ross Forrest responded to a blanket request from the Cowichan Housing Association through the Cowichan Intercultural Society that asked various Cowichan Valley groups to assess whether they have the capacity to house refugees and how it would affect their communities.

According to Joy Emmanuel of the Cowichan Housing Association, B.C. has been asked to consider bringing in 3,000 refugee families as part of the federal government’s commitment to bring over 25,000 by the end of February.

Forrest said he’s replied to the request but hasn’t heard anything back yet.

“I did respond… that we had some capability of housing, on a temporary basis, some at our education centre but we haven’t heard anything back from them yet,” he said.

The Cowichan Lake Education Centre is a place for groups to meet and stay for retreats and special events. The centre is capable of housing anywhere from 15 to 100 people at a time, but high demand means it could only be offered for short-term relief.

“We could house them maybe through a few of the winter months but then once things pick up at the education centre there wouldn’t be any room for them there,” Forrest explained.

He said he’s not sure if that type of set-up is what organizers are looking for.

It remains to be seen whether the centre and services in the area would even meet the requirements to house new families.

“We just said that we’re certainly open to it,” Forrest said. “It’s an exploratory stage that if the need was there that we’d be open to helping.”

Emmanuel said the Cowichan Housing Association was asked by the Cowichan Intercultural Society to do a “very quick snapshot” of the community to gather information on capacity and willingness to be able to receive people, even knowing there are members of the community already in need.

With less than 24 hours to reply, she said she was inspired at the responses she received.

“A couple of people said, ‘You know, we really need to do both. We need to support and open our community to receive some of the refugee families but we also really need to take care of our own people that are here’ and I think that was the overall sentiment,” said Emmanuel. “It was inspiring.”