Duncan’s city council has turned down an application for a temporary emergency shelter for women at 540 Cairnsmore St.
Staff had recommended council give a green light to establishing a 15-bed shelter, which would be run by the Cowichan Women Against Violence organization, at the site of the former Duncan Primary School at its meeting on Sept. 17.
But when no member of council moved the motion in the packed council chamber, Coun. Sharon Jackson moved a successful motion to deny the application.
An alternate motion was made, which passed, for the city to study the possibility of setting up a temporary and mobile emergency shelter for women in Duncan.
“It was a difficult and contentious meeting but, overall, the neighbours who were in attendance were compassionate and understanding of the need for an emergency shelter for women in Duncan,” Jackson said.
“But they don’t want it at the cost of the day cares and seniors homes in that area. The neighbours are already under siege from unwanted behaviour in their neighbourhood.”
Jackson was joined by councillors Roger Bruce and Tom Duncan in the motion to deny the application, Mayor Phil Kent voted against denying it, and councillors Michelle Bell and Michelle Staples recused themselves from the vote for perceived conflicts of interest.
Jackson said the study of a mobile shelter for women is now in the hands of the staff and she expects they will work diligently to find alternate solutions.
“They had better hurry because the next council meeting is in October and the rains of November are not far away after that,” she said.
Last year, an extreme weather shelter for women that was proposed by the United Way and the Cowichan Coalition for Homelessness and Affordable Housing, that was to be situated at the closed Charles Hoey School, was cancelled after School District 79, which owns the building, pulled its support after the plan faced a backlash from the neighbourhood.
At the time, Duncan council also made zoning amendments stating that homeless shelters are not allowed in residential areas unless council gives its approval first, and that any shelter should not be placed in a residential area without prior consultation with the neighbourhood.
Keith Simmonds, a minister at Duncan United Church and a member of the Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Affordable Housing, said he was “floored” by what he heard at the council meeting.
He said there was a lot of misinformation being spread by several audience members.
“One guy said he talked to officials at the Warmland shelter who said women aren’t afraid to seek the shelter’s services, and that’s not true in a lot of cases,” Simmonds said.
“Another said the bathrooms don’t work at the former school site, and another said the clients at the shelter would be dropped off at the same time as kids in the local daycare, and none of it is true.”
Simmonds said he’s grateful that the city is looking at alternatives and he wishes them luck, but he feels the community is no closer to dealing with its homeless and related issues.
“This is the second year in a row the city said no to an emergency shelter, and you can expect as winter comes that many people will turn up in sheds, porches and crawl spaces in an effort to stay warm and dry,” he said.
“Many in the audience at the council meeting said they don’t want these people in their neighbourhood, but by not dealing with the issue, they will actually be pushed into neighbourhoods seeking shelter wherever they can.”