Plans are underway that could see an extreme weather shelter for women set up in Duncan.
The United Way and the Cowichan Coalition for Homelessness and Affordable Housing are working towards placing the shelter in the former Charles Hoey school on Castle Place.
The Cowichan Valley school district has already granted use of the school, located close to McAdam Park, for the shelter and the partners have identified a lead operator capable and willing to run the facility
BC Housing is also advocating for the project, but government officials have indicated that the shelter can be for women only and not children because the Ministry of Children and Family Development has its own process to house homeless women and their children.
Signy Madden, executive director of the United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island, said two homeless counts in the Valley in 2017 identified an average of 23 women who are absolutely homeless in the area, and statistics show many of them are not using the Valley’s Warmland Shelter because they don’t feel safe in its predominantly male environment.
Earlier this week, the City of Duncan turned down a controversial request from the United Way and the coalition to allow for a temporary daytime warming station for the homeless at the field house in McAdam Park.
The city cited a number of reasons for its refusal to house the warming station in its park, including that the field house doesn’t have hot water and funding for the warming station was not in place, but also acknowledged there was significant opposition to the plan from the park’s neighbours.
Madden said the fact that the extreme emergency shelter would be only for women, and that it would likely not hold more than 20 clients at a time, means that the shelter shouldn’t have the same issues and concerns for the neighbours as the warming station.
“There will be staff on site, and if the clients are not able to abide by the shelter’s rules, they wouldn’t be able to stay there,” Madden said.
“I hope the community will be understanding of the need for this shelter.”
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said he doesn’t know if the extreme weather shelter will receive the same negative response from many of the neighbours as the warming centre proposal did.
“But I do know that this extreme weather shelter would be a completely different operation than what was proposed for the warming centre,” he said.
“As well, the field house in McAdam Park was not set up properly to handle a daytime centre, while the Charles Hoey school facility just needs some minor adjustments to be an extreme weather shelter for women.”
Madden said that while funding is falling into place for the shelter, BC Housing will not provide start-up and administration fees, and have indicated that extreme weather initiatives need to be community-driven, with financial support for them coming from the community.
She said another $9,000 is needed, so requests have been made to the City of Duncan, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Municipality of North Cowichan to each contribute $3,000 to the shelter.
North Cowichan decided to grant the $3,000 request at its meeting on Dec. 20, while the next local government meetings in Duncan and the CVRD in which funding decisions can be made are not until the new year.