The Cowichan Valley’s winter-weather women’s shelter could soon be in operation year-round.
The 15-bed shelter, which opened in December, had permits and funding to operate only until March 31.
But BC Housing, which is funding the shelter, located at 2003 University Way in North Cowichan, has agreed to provide funding for at least another full year, until March 31, 2020.
Debbie Berg, executive director of the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society that runs the shelter, said the Cowichan Valley school district, which owns the building in which the shelter is operating, has also agreed to allow the shelter to continue operations for another year at its current location.
“All we require now is for the Municipality of North Cowichan to amend our temporary-use permit until March 31, 2020,” Berg said.
“We’ve submitted that application and it’s in process now.”
A statement from the municipality said the application is expected to be presented to council on April 3, and approval of the amendment could be considered as soon as the council meeting on April 17.
“The shelter is currently in compliance with the existing temporary-use permit,” the statement said.
“Enforcement options will be considered if and when the shelter is confirmed to be out of compliance with permit conditions, but enforcement is unlikely until council considers the temporary-use permit amendment application.”
The Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Housing identified the dire need for the shelter in 2016, based on the homeless count data 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.
Under the shelter’s current temporary-use permit, issued by the municipality last year, the facility was allowed to open nightly between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. until March 31, 2019.
But, recognizing the need for a year-round shelter for women in the area, the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society and other advocates have been working hard to make it a reality
The permit also includes conditions that require security measures and daily sweeps of the site to ensure that it is clean and safe.
Berg said, to date, the shelter has 52 individual clients registered, which is much more than the approximately 30 that were expected.
“There’s definitely a need for this service here,” Berg said.
“It was slow when we first opened in December, but we have an average of 13 women a night staying there now, which we consider a full house.”
Berg said it’s expected that the shelter will eventually have to find a new home as the school board has tentative plans to take down the old building in which it is located within the next few years.
“We’ve been in discussions with BC Housing about this already,” she said.
“They know we will need to move and are looking for another location.”
Berg said the women who use the shelter are very appreciative to the community for allowing it to be set up.
“We’ll make sure we’ll continue to honour our commitments to the community,” she said.