Homeless hub: 40-60 have moved in behind Duncan school district offices

The district has already discovered that this is a vulnerable group of young people — mostly teenage girls

The Cowichan Valley school district has acted quickly to deal with any danger to students after a group of 40-60 homeless started camping and using drugs near the district’s Beverly Street headquarters.

According to school board chair Candace Spilsbury and schools superintendent Rod Allen, daytime crossing guards have been hired, district staff also are out early cleaning up around district buildings and an additional problem area at Cowichan Secondary’s main site has been quickly closed off.

These actions have been taken following a summer of watching a troubling situation escalate near the board office, Spilsbury told the school board at its regular Sept. 6 meeting.

Spilsbury said concern about students had spurred the district to join talks with the wider community. Then Allen explained some of the details of an evolving situation.

“Things are looking different here than they did when we left in the spring. Estimates are that there are 40 to 60 people living behind the dike, behind our buildings here. A disturbingly large percentage of them are under 19.

“We know from conversations with Warmland House [homeless shelter, across the street from the school district offices], they are providing some services, such as clean needle kits, to kids as young as 14,” Allen said.

The district has already discovered that this is a vulnerable group of young people.

“We know that of the youth, about 80 per cent are children in care, and about 80 per cent are female. We also know that there is significantly increased injection drug use.”

Allen said that it appears the combination of nearby availability of drugs and needles and a quiet place makes the area attractive to the young people.

“Ground zero seems to be right on this property. It doesn’t seem to extend over to Quamichan or to [nearby] Alexander [Elementary School]. It seems pretty contained here,” he said.

Talks with neighbours are looking at the problems from two angles, Allen said.

“Number one, of course, is the immediate safety of our students and the adults that work here. A second part is how are we thinking of moving forward as a community with a situation that really didn’t exist here four months ago?”

Straightforward moves have been taken already.

“The rear courtyard of Cowichan Secondary is now completely fenced. And that’s not as simple as just putting up a fence. It’s an emergency fire exit so there have to be push bars in there. But that area is now able to be cleaned appropriately every day and is available for student use in a much more secure way,” he said.

At Beverly Street, starting about 7 a.m., a crew does a sweep around doorways and under trees, looking for needles and other paraphernalia, using appropriate safety precautions.

“Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, as Candace said, we have a number of students moving back and forth between the two campuses. We know there are some areas along that route that are particularly troublesome. So for the first two weeks of school, while we see what the situation is like, we have hired two ‘noon hour supervisors’ to be along that route during the day. We’re also chatting with kids to see if they are noticing anything or seeing anything and what we should be doing.”

Warmland House is also in on the discussions.

“They are also very supportive and will have some supervisory people out and about as well and have been helpful in helping with the cleanup around here as well,” Allen said.

Trustee Joe Thorne urged district staff to ensure the Ministry of Children and Family Development is involved.

“As you mentioned, some of these kids are 14. I think we should look at the ages and use the resources that are there,” he said.

Trustee Cathy Schmidt said the problem may be escalating, but it’s not new.

“The teenage girl thing has always been a problem in the Cowichan Valley. I know that from personal experience. And it’s not something that I believe is easy to get rid of because of how teenage girls think and how self-sufficient they are now. But if there is anything we can do, please let the board know.”

Asked if this really has just blown up in the last few months, Spilsbury said, “It’s escalated in the last few months. No one has really given us an opinion on why. We’ve kept asking and were given the impression that [various agencies] are doing a study themselves in terms of what we are dealing with.”

“An important ingredient is that the whole community here, including service providers, are working together so that we can support each other’s initiatives,” she said.

Just Posted

Old-growth logging protesters block a road on Monday, June 14. This is not the blockade at Honeymoon Bay referred to in the story. (Facebook photo)
Old-growth logging protesters block RCMP access on road near Honeymoon Bay

Police were on their way to enforcement in Fairy Creek area when they were stopped

DAVID VAN DEVENTER
Cowichan Citizen and Lake Cowichan Gazette announce new publisher

David van Deventer has been with Black Press Media since 2014

Island Health is bringing a vaccination clinic to Lake Cowichan starting June 23. (Submitted)
COVID vaccine clinic coming to Lake Cowichan as area numbers lag

Clinic will operate at arena starting June 23

The Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society, which has been operating a treatment centre on land leased from the Nanoose First Nation for 35 years (pictured), has begun a fundraising campaign to open a new centre near Duncan. (Tsow-Tun Le Lum Society photo)
New Indigenous treatment centre to be built near Duncan

Centre will help survivors of residential schools

Rick Ruppenthal of Saltair will host a 12-hour talk-a-thon Friday, June 18 over Facebook live. (Photo submitted)
Talk-a-thon to focus on men’s mental health issues

Saltair man spearheading a campaign to generate more conversation during fundraiser

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Two ambulances and a medevac helicopter are on scene at Taylor River Flats rest area on Highway 4 due to a serious motor vehicle incident. (PHOTO COURTESY MAGGIE BROWN)
Accident closes Highway 4 between Port Alberni and Tofino

Watch DriveBC for updates on road closures

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

Most Read