Robert Barron's column

Robert Barron column: Good work being done for the homeless

We’re lucky to have Horn here.

Kudos to the Cowichan Housing Association and the rest of the community leaders in the area who have spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to deal with the issues around homelessness in the region.

In the three years that John Horn, the CHA’s executive director, has been in his position, he and his staff have been working doggedly to help the growing numbers of homeless people in the Valley, which was determined to be 129 by the latest homeless count held in March, although the numbers are expected to be much higher in reality.

Of course there are many others playing roles to help assist, but Horn has established himself as one of the main leaders in this ongoing campaign.

We’re lucky to have Horn here.

I used to deal with him a lot when I worked out of Nanaimo a number of years ago and he was the social planner for that city.

Horn worked hard for the disadvantaged in Nanaimo too, and had gained quite a reputation in the Harbour City for getting things done.

In the short time Horn has been working in the Valley, he has played an integral role in establishing the tent sites for the homeless in the region, which have since reverted to small, individual sleeping cabins for the people to get in out of the weather and stay warm, dry and secure.

He is also playing a major role in the decision by BC Housing to establish approximately 100 supportive housing units for people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness in the Valley at two sites — 2983 Drinkwater Rd. in North Cowichan and 260 White Rd. in Duncan — that will soon be under construction.

And he’s not done yet.

I watched as Horn spoke to Duncan’s city council on April 6 and laid out what will hopefully be the Valley’s next stage in working to deal with the local homeless issues.

He said the COVID-19 Vulnerable Populations Cowichan Task Force, of which he is co-chairman, is hoping to partner with local governments to apply for a $2.5-million grant from the UBCM Strengthening Communities’ Services funding program.

He said, if the City of Duncan, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and other local governments in the Valley agree to apply jointly for the grant, and it is successful, a number of other initiatives can be launched.

They include installing eight temporary sleeping cabins for the homeless, with wrap-around services, in Lake Cowichan, which would be the first time the small community will host such a site.

Lake Cowichan Mayor Bob Day confirmed in January that there are six identified members of the local homeless community who were receiving only minimal services at the time.

Horn is also proposing to add another 20 sleeping cabins at another, yet to be determined, site in the Valley to add to the 39 cabins currently at two sites; St. Julien Street in Duncan and a site on Government Street known as “The Mound”, which is owned by Cowichan Tribes.

As well, Horn said that if the funding application is successful, the Town of Ladysmith would also have incremental services begin, including outreach support, added to the town’s existing shelter facility, and the implementation of peer-based programs to address community concerns about discarded syringes, litter, anti-social activities occurring in public, graffiti and other related issues in the region.

Of course, Duncan’s council unanimously passed its motion to support the application at the meeting after Horn’s presentation, and I doubt that the initiative will be turned down by the other local governments that are needed to support it.

There’s a lot more to dealing with the complicated homeless problem in the area than just providing shelter and basic services, but it is a big first step in helping these folks turn their lives around.

I talked to Jason Mimkowitz, who was tenting at the St. Julien Street site when the new sleeping cabins were installed in January.

He had been living there since June and the thought of having a solid roof over his head and a heated area to live in for the first time in months as winter took hold in the region brought tears to his eyes.

Mimkowitz said that up to that point, it took all his time and energy just trying to find somewhere to get out of the elements and he saw moving into a sleeping cabin, along with the supports being provided to him, as an opportunity to change his life for the better.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but with people like Horn working on our behalf, there might yet be a light at the end of this very dark tunnel.


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