The City of Duncan has confirmed that an extreme weather shelter for women will not go ahead at Charles Hoey school.
Mayor Phil Kent said a letter has been received from the Cowichan Valley School District stating that it has decided against using the school for that purpose.
The letter was in response to zoning amendments made by the city that homeless shelters are not allowed in residential areas.
Earlier in the week, the city declared that it was “strongly opposed” to the former Charles Hoey school being used as an extreme weather shelter for women.
City council passed the motion at a special council meeting on Jan. 16, which was just seven minutes long, and also declared that any shelter should not be placed in a residential area without prior consultation with the neighbourhood.
Council further passed a motion calling on the city to immediately advise council in North Cowichan about the motion and “respectfully request” that the Municipality of North Cowichan make its $3,000 commitment towards the extreme weather shelter contingent on it not being placed in a residential area without prior consultation with the neighbourhood.
As well, council passed a motion requesting that the shelter’s proponents meet with Duncan Mayor Phil Kent and officials from the Warmland Shelter to find solutions to the issue.
The United Way and the Cowichan Coalition for Homelessness and Affordable Housing have been working towards placing the shelter in the former Charles Hoey school on Castle Place.
But the project has been facing a backlash from the neighbourhood, which had expressed concerns about an earlier, but abandoned, effort to set up a daytime warming centre for the homeless in McAdam Park, which is adjacent to Charles Hoey school.
The City of Duncan recently denied $3,000 in funding that was requested for the extreme weather shelter for women at a recent council meeting after a large contingent from the neighbourhood attended expressing their concerns.
North Cowichan has already approved a $3,000 grant for the shelter.
Kent said that while the school is owned by the Cowichan Valley school district, which has given its consent for the shelter, council hopes its motions will cause the school district and North Cowichan to pay attention to the concerns of the city.
“The neighbourhood has some legitimate concerns about this shelter,” he said.
“I think improvements can be made as to how these types of projects move forward from the planning and strategy stage to the activities and action stage. There are issues to be heard around these projects and we’ll be sending letters to both the school district and North Cowichan.”
Duncan councillor Sharon Jackson, who is also questioning whether the city’s zoning allows a shelter at that location, said it’s the job of the Warmland Shelter to meet the needs of both women and men, and it’s up to Warmland to find solutions.
“If women are uncomfortable there, then it’s up to Warmland to find ways to make them safe and secure, and not just leave the problem for others to deal with.”
North Cowichan did not rescind its commitment to grant $3,000 to the women’s shelter at its council meeting on Jan. 17.
Councillors pointed out that the money is expected to be used for an extreme weather shelter for women regardless of where it will be placed.
North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said that in his opinion, the shelter could actually be part of the solution to the neighbourhood’s problems with homeless people.
“It’s said that a community is measured by how it treats its less fortunate,” he said.
“I don’t think we should take any action on this request.”
Before the school district’s decision not to move forward, the United Way’s Melaina Patenaude, who is also a member of the Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Affordable Housing, said the groups and agencies that make up the coalition would host a public engagement session to explain what’s involved.
Patenuade also said the shelter would actually provide some solutions to the neighbours’ concerns around a proliferation of homeless people in their neighbourhood and discarded drug paraphernalia.
“There will be a strong presence of trained professionals that will provide support for those who use the shelter and move along those who are not meant to be there,” she said.
“The shelter will have a positive impact on the neighbourhood.”