Time may have run out to open an extreme weather shelter for women in the Cowichan Valley this year.
Keith Simmonds, a member of the Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Affordable Housing, said efforts to find a location for the shelter after plans for it to be placed at the old Charles Hoey school in Duncan were nixed have not been fruitful.
“We had hoped to have the extreme weather shelter for woman up and running by Feb. 1, so there may not be enough time left for the shelter to be in operation this winter,” said Simmonds, who is also a minister at the Duncan United Church.
“But the coalition still has not made any final decisions at this time.”
Simmonds said he’s also concerned about zoning changes that had been proposed by the City of Duncan last month that could see locations for emergency shelters severely limited in the city.
After many from the McAdam Park area raised concerns about plans for the shelter at the nearby Charles Hoey school, the city declared that it was “strongly opposed” to the school being used as an extreme weather shelter for women.
City council also asked staff to prepare changes to its zoning bylaw to state that shelters are not allowed in buildings zoned institutional in residential neighbourhoods.
The zoning changes are scheduled to go to first and second readings at the council meeting on Feb. 19, and a public hearing on the issue has been scheduled for March 19.
Simmonds said that if every building zoned as institutional in the city is not allowed to be used as an emergency shelter, then churches in Duncan would no longer be able to offer themselves as emergency shelters.
“While we are not likely to turn people away if we are needed in case of an emergency, like a fire at Duncan Manor or something, it does make us wonder if Duncan’s city council would arrest us for doing so, as council would likely have to enforce the law equally whether on homeless seniors, or homeless abused women,” he said.
“These are some of the unintended consequences that could arise if the zoning changes go through.”
Duncan Mayor Phil Kent said the intent of the zoning changes is to identify where emergency shelters can be established, and the government would have to sign off on any zoning changes before they could become official.
“The idea is not to exclude shelters from the city, and people will be invited to provide public input at a meeting before any final decisions are made,” he said.
Sharon Jackson, the Duncan councillor who proposed the zoning changes, said major concerns were raised about placing the emergency shelter in the school, including the fact that the proponents never consulted with the neighbours.
Jackson said neighbours of the overdose prevention centre, located at the corner of Canada Avenue and Third Street, were told problems from the centre would be minimal.
“But there’s all kinds of illicit activity going on around there, and discarded needles are everywhere, so all the things that the neighbours feared have come true,” she said.
“The school’s neighbours have the same concerns. You can’t just set up a shelter there without consulting them. However, I think Keith Simmonds will be relieved when he sees the final wording in the proposed changes to the zoning bylaw when it is released publicly.”