A daytime warming centre for the homeless this winter in McAdam Park is not wanted by many who work and live around the public space.
That point was made clear when approximately 100 people jammed into Cowichan Preschool, which operates next door to the park, to discuss the issue on Dec. 6.
Trish, a teacher at the preschool who was one of the meeting’s organizers, said the people at the school are compassionate towards the homeless, but are also concerned about the children.
“The homeless are vulnerable, but so are the children and the seniors who walk their dogs through the park every day,” she said.
“Duncan has so few public spaces so it would be a shame to lose another one. I feel bad for the city because this is a huge problem and there are so few dollars to deal with it.”
The Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness asked the City of Duncan in a letter last week to help establish a daytime warming centre for the homeless in the field houses at McAdam Park.
The field houses, which have change rooms and shower facilities, were made available for this purpose in the past and, given the support of the province, the coalition is hoping it could be done again.
Council voted unanimously to ask staff to prepare a report on the financial and community impacts of establishing a warming station.
Opie Williams, who has been coaching football at the sports field at McAdam Park for 10 years, said the ongoing issue around discarded needles around the park is the worst he can remember.
He said that practices and games have to be stopped several times when needles are discovered on the fields and the sharps have to be properly disposed of.
“And this is happening right next to a preschool that has had to build an eight-foot fence around it because of these problems,” Williams said.
“A daytime warming centre right next door will kill this preschool. Also, we didn’t have hot water for our showers in the field house for the past five months, and as soon as this comes up, the water is fixed.”
Zim Przybyl, a neighbour of the park, said he knows such a facility is needed in the city, but asked why it should be situated in his backyard.
“I expect that we’ll see the largest tent city in Duncan set up here,” he said.
“We, then, will become the most vulnerable people in the city.”
Rochelle, a mother from the neighbourhood who uses the park, said she’s not opposed to a warming centre, but the park is not a suitable location for it.
“This area is already compromised,” she said.
“I watch people shoot up here three to four times a week and they just leave their needles on the ground, despite a needle drop-box that has been set up close by.”
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent, who attended the meeting, said no decisions have yet been made by council on establishing a warming station in McAdam Park.
He said staff are preparing a report on the issue, but, at this stage, the city still has to determine if the province, which is ultimately responsible for dealing with homelessness in B.C., is behind the plan.
“We wouldn’t support it if there was no support from the province,” Kent said.
“But there are about 70 people considered absolutely homeless in the city that are living rough. Back in 2004, when there was no shelter here, we had deaths. We have a shelter now, but there are still some gaps. There are many women, for example, who just won’t use the shelter.”