A semi-permanent daytime warming centre for homeless people is being considered for James Street in Duncan, which would take a bite out of the Cowichan Community Centre’s parking lot that is adjacent to University Way.
The land is jointly owned by the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan and both councils are expected to consider the proposal at their next council meetings later this month.
If approved, the “A Place To Be” project will be licensed to the Cowichan Housing Association for six months, with the option to extend the licence for an additional six months.
The proposed project comes on the heels of the death of a homeless man, Josh Derrah, who died of a suspected drug overdose on the night of Dec. 20 outside Duncan’s A&W restaurant, which is close to the site where the new shelter is being proposed.
Members of the community believe the cold temperatures at the time and lack of suitable warming shelters also played a role in Derrah’s death.
Shelley Cook, executive director of the CHA, said the application for a warming centre at the site predated the death of Derrah, but that incident illustrated the need for such a facility in regards to concerns around injuries and loss of life among the homeless in the region.
“The need to have a place for the unhoused to go in the daytime to warm themselves during the cold months and cool off during the hot months has been recognized for some time,” Cook said.
“It would be a place for the unhoused to go to be safe and secure and receive support. It would meet the needs of the broader community as well as the unhoused population because it would give the homeless somewhere to be during the daytime.”
Cook said the project is being funded with $600,000 from the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and the CHA will contract out to a local organization to run the centre once a site is finally chosen.
She said she expects some negative feedback from neighbours wherever a site is finally chosen, including the proposed location near the Cowichan Community Centre and the new Cowichan Secondary School.
“There will be some questions, and we’ll address them at the time, but we haven’t received much feedback from that proposed site yet,” Cook said.
Mike Russell, communications director for the Cowichan Valley School District, said the district had no previous knowledge of the plan for the shelter at the site.
“We will need to gather more information about it before providing comment,” he said.