The City of Duncan has approved a temporary use permit to allow up to 40 sleeping cabins for the homeless at 610 Trunk Rd., despite numerous delegations who spoke against it at the council meeting on Dec. 13.
The Cowichan Housing Association, on behalf of the Cowichan COVID-19 Task Force for Vulnerable Population, applied to the city in November for the permit for the site, which is owned by BC Housing, to provide a 24-hour housing and support service for up to 40 people in the small cabins from Jan. 15, 2022 to Sept. 30, 2022.
The project, called “It Takes a Village: Housing the Unsheltered Population of the Cowichan Valley”, will be paid for from a government grant and operated by Lookout Housing and Health Society, which also runs the newly opened Health and Wellness Centre on York Road, and is to be based on an established model of housing and support services already in use in Duncan and on Cowichan Tribes’ land.
Paul Russell, a neighbour of the project, said there are a lot of unhappy people in the heavily residential area over council’s decision.
“A lot of people feel gut punched by the whole thing, especially since there was a petition signed by more than 600 people in the neighbourhood who are against it,” he said.
“We intend to take this further, but we’re not sure what we’ll do at this point.”
At the council meeting, Lookout Housing and Health Society’s executive director Shayne Williams said that the society is committed to cleaning and providing regular services at the site, and to being responsive to the needs and concerns of the surrounding community.
He also said a community advisory committee, which will include local businesses, neighbours, BC Housing, Island Health, the City of Duncan and the local RCMP, will be established to deal with issues that arise from the Village.
But Coun. Garry Bruce, the only councillor who voted against the temporary-use permit, said the residents had spoken firmly against the project.
“I don’t think we know better than the residents,” he said.
“We have been an absolute failure in making these projects safe. They have looked terrible in our community so far so there’s no wonder that people are so upset about this project on Trunk Road. I’m voting against this because I can’t take a chance on a project that I’m not the least bit interested in ruining this part of town. It should go elsewhere.”
Coun. Jenni Capps said she understands the concerns raised by residents about safety and security, and the city should work with the applicant to provide more security at the site.
She said she lives a block from the The Mound site on Government Street, which has a number of sleeping cabins for the homeless on it, and she would have voted for that if it was in the city’s jurisdiction.
“We’ve been given a choice to do something here, with significant investment from senior levels of government and at no cost to our taxpayers,” Capps said.
“I think it’s better to do something than nothing.”
Coun. Bob Brooke said there have been a lot of conversations around the issue, but he will support the project.
“We have to give these people some place to live and have shelter,” he said.
“Giving the opportunity to provide food and shelter is not something I’ll vote against. We will deal with any issues that arise as a result of this in any way possible.”
Coun. Tom Duncan said it has to be acknowledged that the city has a homeless problem, with the vast majority of the homeless people from the local area.
He said he also has safety and security concerns with the project, but homeless people are already congregating in the neighbourhood regardless of which way council votes.
Duncan said the local RCMP told him that they are not seeing an increase in crime in the other areas where sleeping cabins have been set up.
“If these people had a home, it would help keep them away from the path of crime and possible addiction with the services that will be provided at the site,” he said.
“This is about providing opportunities for them. I recognize that there are fears in the community and the city should come to the plate with more money for security if needed.”
Coun. Carol Newington said she lives in a warm house, has a stomach full of food and is very secure and she can’t deny someone else an opportunity to have those things, even if it is only temporary.
“I drive down [Trunk Road] four times a week and there are people there already that have no homes,” she said.
Mayor Michelle Staples said she recognizes there are challenges with such sites, but pointed out the majority of calls received at city hall have to do with the impacts of homeless people in the community.
She said the city, like other municipalities, is limited as to what it can do to deal with the problem, but it is working hard with other levels of government to help meet the challenges around homeless issues.
“Senior levels of government are investing more into preventive measures and supportive-housing units but it’s not enough, and it’s not coming fast enough, to deal with the daily challenges of the unhoused in the community,” Staples said.
“This is one of those things we can do to take one more step in making a difference.”