North Cowichan council doesn’t want to see a semi-permanent daytime warming centre for homeless people set up in the Cowichan Community Centre’s parking lot.
In a meeting on Jan. 18, council voted 5-2 on a motion to refer the issue of the location of the warming centre back to the Cowichan Housing Association and ask that the association work with staff from North Cowichan and the City of Duncan to find an alternate location for it.
Coun. Bruce Findlay and Coun. Tek Manhas voted again the motion, but Manhas made it clear that his opposition has to do with a lot more than the centre’s location.
Manhas said that the centre will be funded with a $624,000 grant from the Union of B.C. Municipalities for one year, but he expects the warming centre will be around longer than that.
“I feel our taxpayers are going to be on the hook for funding this each year moving forward,” he said.
“It’s needed, but but the province and the federal government need to come up with the money for ongoing support rather than downloading this onto the residents of North Cowichan. Next year, it will go up to $700,000 and that’s the equivalent of 2.5 per cent of our taxes that we’ll be put on the hook for.”
The Place to Be warming centre, which will be licensed to the CHA, is intended as a pilot project to provide a semi-permanent daytime basic warming and cooling shelter, which would be in a large tent structure that can be moved if required, for people experiencing homelessness.
The land at the CCC site where the shelter was proposed is jointly owned by the City of Duncan and the Municipality of North Cowichan, and the CHA was asking both municipalities to grant it a six-month licence of occupation for the warming centre at the site, with the option to extend for another six months.
The City of Duncan’s council was scheduled to debate granting a licence at its meeting on Jan. 16, but the discussion was postponed until the next council meeting after Mayor Michelle Staples announced that more time is needed to explore other recently identified options for the project.
The Cowichan Valley School District has also raised concerns about placing the shelter in the CCC’s parking lot, which is close to a number of its schools.
Officials at the CHA could not be reached for comment by press time.
At North Cowichan’s council meeting on Jan. 18, Coun. Christopher Justice said the points made by Manhas were well taken, but irrelevant for the motion to look for an alternate site for the centre.
“I wonder if Coun. Manhas would agree that looking for an alternate site is important, even though what he’s saying has lots of merit,” he said.
Manhas responded that the issue for him is ongoing funding for these types of projects that are the responsibility of senior levels of government.
“We can put up one warming centre, and then we’ll need one or two more,” he said.
“We build it and they will come. This is not going to end.”
Coun. Chris Istace said he would like see the task force — which includes representative from local and senior governments, school district, First Nations and other stakeholders — that was established several years ago to help deal with local homeless issues, meet again to come up with possible solutions.
Mayor Rob Douglas said the task force is meeting again soon, but council’s main focus should be to advocate senior levels of government to tackle these issues.
“We don’t have the resources or the jurisdiction to take on some of these big problems,” he said.
Coun. Debra Toporowski agreed that North Cowichan is increasingly taking more responsibility for issues that are in the jurisdiction of senior levels of government.
“But we need to help them as well in having some solutions because these are band-aid solutions that we’re looking at,” she said.
Coun. Mike Caljouw said he will vote for the motion, but only because another location is needed for the centre.
“I believe we need to find some options for the homeless, even if it’s a temporary situation,” he said.