Letter: Cowichan Community keen to help people die, but sluggish to help others live

When community can raise funds to create facility for the dying, why not for homeless?

Cowichan Community keen to help people die, but sluggish to help others live

As a Hospice Volunteer, in September of 2020, I was invited to tour the recently completed Cowichan Hospice House. At that time I had been volunteering for about 10 years in various capacities for Hospice, one being the visiting of palliative patients at the Cowichan District Hospital. I was often frustrated seeing patients living out the last of their days in that old institutional setting, sometimes in a four bed room with three other patients recovering from an operation.

I was therefore overwhelmed by the thoughtful, heartfelt considerations that went into the rapid construction of the Cowichan Hospice House https://cowichanhospice.org/cowichanhospicehouse/, a state of the art, seven bed facility (to become 10) with wide clear hallways, a kitchen and dining facility for families, a play room for kids, inside and outside gathering places for various ceremonies with consideration of the ethnic diversity in our community, private rooms with widescreen TVs, fireplaces, private bathrooms, fold down couches for family members, even fold down beds for the patients and a loved one. I could go on and on about the brilliant architecture and attention to detail by the builders, designers, landscapers and the thoughtful input from the Hospice administrators. I was deeply moved to see this building and surrounds come to fruition in record time once construction was started. Of course, the valley had been in need of a Hospice House since the Cowichan Valley Hospice Society began supporting grieving families and palliative patients in 1981.

During my pre-opening tour, I commented to one of our guides that there was another need for a facility destined to be built on White Street, just two blocks away, for the homeless in our community. I can still recall the look of dismay. At that time, the site had been chosen for a homeless shelter, but construction had not yet started. As much as I was moved by the thoughtfulness and I must say opulence which I was seeing at this brand new Hospice House for the dying, I was struck by the fact that at the same time as this building was being built we hadn’t even started construction of a facility for the homeless in Duncan.

Our community raised millions of dollars through a dedicated team of fundraisers working tirelessly to garner very generous support from many local businesses and community organizations for the Cowichan Valley Hospice House. I couldn’t help but wonder, when our community can raise funds to create a world class, state of the art facility for the dying, why can’t we raise funds for the homeless? On Dec. 20, 2022, a man was found dead outside the A&W in Duncan. Would he have lived had he had a comfortable warm shelter to call his own?

On June 6, this year, the Cowichan Valley Citizen had a story with the headline, “Plans for new $35-million Duncan art gallery moving forward”. This is wonderful news and if it does go forward it will be a giant feather in the cap of our burgeoning community. Again, I am struck by the dichotomy here. What about the homeless in our community? Will they be able to sleep in the entryway?

At the time of writing this, I can walk down to my street corner and see an ugly looking cement wall at one end of the five or six storey construction site on White Street which looks like it has months to go before completion. I’m appalled at the length of time it’s taking to build this facility for the homeless while there are people right now sleeping outside in the cold and damp. I am struck again by the comparison with the construction of the Hospice House which began about the same time as the White Street location was determined, and was completed within a year.

On Feb. 25 this year, I will be taking part in a walk to raise funds for the homeless in our town and across Canada called The Coldest Night of the Year. I invite you to join my team, “Friends of Centennial Park”, or form your own team, or just donate or walk on your own. Please visit the website https://cnoy.org/home to donate or participate in any way you can.

Kirk Smith



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