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Cowichan community groups appeal for locations for emergency winter shelters

Unhoused people face many health hazards during winter months
Community groups in the Cowichan Valley are appealing to the public in their ongoing efforts to find suitable locations for winter emergency shelters in the region. (Citizen file photo)

Community health and emergency partners in the Cowichan Valley are making a public appeal for help in trying to find suitable locations for emergency winter shelters in the region.

As the cold weather of winter looms, the Cowichan Housing Association, Cowichan Women Against Violence Society, Cowichan Green Community, Cowichan Communities Health Network, Canadian Mental Health Association, Cowichan Valley Basket Society, Lookout Housing and Health Society, House of Friendship and Cowichan Tribes are collectively asking for assistance in their quest to find places to establish shelters.


“We are appealing to residents, property owners, and municipalities to join us in supporting the health of all of our community members by helping us to find indoor or outdoor locations where winter shelter spaces can be offered as emergency shelter,” the groups said in a statement.

“We also want to emphasize that the housing crisis is a public-health crisis, where providing housing, or winter shelters at the bare minimum, is essential to helping support the health of all in our community.”

Since 2020, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the Cowichan Valley has increased by 176 per cent.

During the winter months, more and more people are trying to get by in tents, in unheated structures, in cars, and in RVs.

Without emergency winter shelters, these people can be exposed to many hazards, including hypothermia, frostbite, fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, and falling trees during winter storms.

The community groups said it’s important to know that people using emergency winter shelters in the Cowichan Valley are people from local communities.


“Last year, 66 per cent of those who used a Cowichan shelter location had lived in our region for more than five years, and roughly 40 per cent have been here all their lives,” they said.

“These people are often seniors living in poor housing, people who’ve been priced out of the rental market, spouses fleeing abuse, people with multiple medical conditions and disabilities, and a growing number of young people under 19 years of age.”

The community groups that released the statement as well as other organizations are working hard this year to organize emergency shelters, find staff, and provide food and support services.

Last year, Lookout Housing and Health Society operated an emergency winter shelter at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for 24 nights, from January to March, 2023.

The shelter served 425 people, an average of 18 people per night, and approximately 850 meals were supplied.

“However, despite these enormous efforts, we are struggling with one critical element; securing shelter locations that meet zoning requirements,” the groups said.

“An ideal shelter location offers things like ample space, washrooms, showers, and a central location connected via transit and/or having close proximity to health providers and other services. Such spaces are increasingly hard to find as urban areas are redeveloped. The Cowichan Valley is not alone in this. Other communities across the Island are struggling to find shelter locations, putting many hundreds of people at risk of injury and death this winter.”

Those able to help find shelter locations are encouraged to email

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
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