The end of 2017 saw tentative plans by members of the United Way and the Cowichan Coalition for Homelessness and Affordable Housing to create a winter weather women’s shelter in the former Charles Hoey school on Castle Place near McAdam Park.
By the end of the first week in January 2018, it was back to the drawing board after the City of Duncan denied funding to the project.
A standing-room only group of people who are against placing the women’s shelter in the school made their point clear at the city’s council meeting on Jan. 8.
Duncan city councillor Sharon Jackson, who voted against funding for the women’s emergency shelter, said the neighbourhood was already plagued by litter and crime from transient and homeless people.
Plans were officially scuttled after the City of Duncan changed its zoning bylaws at a special council meeting on Jan. 16 to state that homeless shelters are not allowed in residential areas.
Summer came and went without headlines but come fall, the issue was back in the news.
In early September, a temporary emergency shelter for women was being considered at 540 Cairnsmore St. in Duncan.
Staff at the City of Duncan recommended council give a green light to establishing the 15-bed shelter at the site of the former Duncan Primary School at the Sept. 17 council meeting after the Cowichan Women Against Violence organization began an application process for the shelter the previous spring.
The shelter was denied at the council meeting.
“It was a difficult and contentious meeting but, overall, the neighbours who were in attendance were compassionate and understanding of the need for an emergency shelter for women in Duncan,” Jackson said. “But they don’t want it at the cost of the day cares and seniors homes in that area. The neighbours are already under siege from unwanted behaviour in their neighbourhood.”
Things changed for the better come November when the Cowichan Valley School District’s board of education approved, in principle, the short-term lease of a vacant public building behind the Cowichan Community Centre for a cold weather women’s shelter. The Municipality of North Cowichan still had to get on board, however.
They heard from the public at their Dec. 5 council meeting.
A number of speakers and letter writers expressed concerns that the location was inappropriate for such a purpose, with some pointing out possible problems with a shelter being placed adjacent to a children’s Strong Start play centre called Wendy’s House.
But many of the approximately 25 speakers who talked to council about the issue pointed out how necessary it is to look after women in distress in the community.
North Cowichan’s council unanimously gave it the green light.
“Decisions about shelters can be difficult,” said Al Siebring, mayor of North Cowichan. “North Cowichan council has demonstrated enormous resolve and supported this application wholeheartedly. Council also commends the Cowichan Valley School District for making its land available for this shelter. Supporting initiatives like this makes our communities stronger.”