Almost 140 women have used the services at the Cowichan Valley’s woman’s shelter on University Way since it first opened its doors in December, 2018.
In that time, 14 out of the 15 beds in the shelter were used almost every night.
Debbie Berg, the shelter’s executive director who has worked with shelters for more than 15 years, said the facility has been running “fairly smooth” since it opened.
“In my past experience, there can be a lot of conflict between residents,” she said.
“With this shelter, the women and staff have come together as a community quite quickly. Some women have even found ways to support each other outside of the shelter during the day, strive to be respectful neighbours, and acknowledge how glad they are that the community supported this place of safety for them.”
The Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Housing identified the dire need for the shelter in 2016, based on the homeless count data in the Cowichan Valley and feedback from the United Way’s partner agencies.
Other proposed locations for the emergency shelter for women, including the old school building on Cairnsmore Street and the old Charles Hoey School in Duncan, were rejected by the City of Duncan’s previous council, largely due to protests from neighbours.
This shelter, which is located in a converted concession stand owned by the Cowichan Valley school district, was first used as a temporary winter-weather shelter for woman and had a permit to operate from the Municipality of North Cowichan and funding from BC Housing to last until March 31, 2019.
But, in recognition of the need for a year-round shelter for women in the Valley, the funding and operating permit has now been extended to at least Dec. 6, 2021.
Berg, who is also the executive director of the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society which operates the shelter, said the facility doesn’t just offer a place to sleep.
She said some women use it to do their laundry, pick up clothing, and make connections with other women and staff.
“Other programs from the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society are available by referral, including the Horizons Pre-employment program, poverty law advocate program, counselling and victim services programs,” Berg said.
“The whole area is still struggling (with homeless issues) and we’re concerned that we may not have enough beds. BC Housing, with which we hold our contract, is actively looking for a bigger location for us.”
Berg said that staff have found that the vast majority of the shelter’s users are from the Valley, and very few are transients from other areas.
She said many have addiction issues, but the shelter is seeing more seniors who just can’t make their rents and those with health issues other than addictions.
RCMP Const. Kim Granneman, the domestic violence unit coordinator with the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, said the police rely heavily on community resources and the women’s shelter has been able to provide displaced women with stability and emotional support during difficult times.
“Since opening their doors, police have also been successful in redirecting women living on the streets to the shelter with continued success,” she said.
“The shelter has expanded their doors to allow police to meet with clients who may not feel comfortable attending the detachment. This continued relationship has become invaluable to helping women in the community.”