Tenting and fences will begin to be set up Tuesday, May 19 in the parking lot at the south end of Fuller Lake Arena in North Cowichan as one of the six to eight temporary tenting sites for the homeless that are to be set up in the Cowichan region. People will start moving onto the site later that day.
Al Siebring, mayor of North Cowichan and a member of the COVID-19 Vulnerable Population Cowichan Task Force, said sites on land belonging to Cowichan Tribes, the City of Duncan and the Town of Ladysmith are also being considered, but the exact locations have yet to be confirmed.
Siebring said he expects the locations of all the chosen sites will be released this week.
“There’s a lot of community concerns around these sites, but local governments have little choice as to where they go,” he said.
“North Cowichan is not leading this initiative, but we have been cooperating at the request of the province, who asked each municipality to identify potential sites to aid in the COVID-19 response for the homeless population.”
BC Housing announced last week it will provide $172,000 to support phase one of a plan developed by the Cowichan Task Force to create temporary accommodations for the homeless in the Valley during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and the Rapid Relief Fund, organized by the Victoria Foundation, Jawl Foundation and Times Colonist, is providing an additional $220,000 for the plan.
Phase one of the plan, which will be funded until June 30, will see local homeless people housed in a variety of ways, including, small-scale, “family-cluster” serviced outdoor tenting sites housing up to, and no more than, 12 people per site.
None of the sites will be established in any parks or public green spaces.
Support services that include peer supports, site maintenance and cleaning, shower facilities, laundry services, security, portable washrooms and hand-washing stations will be provided.
The initiative is intended to support the provincial mandate to provide “shelter-in-place” options in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines and keep people safe.
An earlier press release from North Cowichan said the site at Fuller Lake Arena will include involvement from on-the-ground service providers, such as Cowichan Neighbourhood House, who interact daily with the Chemainus homeless population and know each of them individually.
The release said the inhabitants of this camp would be those already living in the Chemainus area and people will not be brought in from other areas of the Island or Valley.
There will be a number of processes and assurances in place to ensure the tenting sites in the Valley are both safe for those residing nearby, and those in the sites.
“For example, before being admitted, potential inhabitants will be tested for COVID-19,” the release said.
“If they test positive, Island Health will arrange to move these people into isolation in hotel rooms.”
“While I acknowledge there are some concerns in the community about the Fuller Lake Arena parking lot being a short-term tenting site, it is important to note that this site will be occupied by homeless individuals already residing in the Chemainus area,” said Siebring. “It is essential to the health and safety of our community that everyone has the opportunity to shelter in place and isolate, whether or not they are infected with COVID-19. The Community is safer with these tenting sites in place, and I am pleased to see this step being taken to help protect all residents during this public health crisis.”
Siebring said in his mayor’s report at North Cowichan’s council meeting on May 6 that the task force wants to ensure that the tent communities don’t become “semi-permanent”, and a committee has been struck to determine strategies.
He said it’s his understanding that once the final locations are identified, there are plans to notify neighbours living close by.
“I can only presume those notifications will include points of contact if these encampments lead to disorder or other concerns,” Siebring said.