Sian Thomson / Campbell River Courier-Islander 

The ‘Cargotecture’ idea to house the homeless on cold winter nights is shown at left. The portable unit has basic accommodations, heat and water and can be moved at a moment’s notice.  Photograph by: Submitted

The ‘Cargotecture’ idea to house the homeless on cold winter nights is shown at left. The portable unit has basic accommodations, heat and water and can be moved at a moment’s notice. Photograph by: Submitted

Paul Mason wants to give Campbell River something to be proud of.

The Program Manager for Campbell River Housing Resource Centre said it is known as “Cargotecture”, retrofitted shipping containers that provide safe and dignified lodgings to replace the cardboard boxes, wet tents, and dirty blankets homeless people use to sleep outdoors.

Those blankets and cardboard boxes do not protect these vulnerable people when the storms and cold weather hit Campbell River, said Mason. In 2011 two people who went to sleep outside, in the cold wind and snow, perished.

Mason says that these temporary homeless relief shelters, a 40-foot shipping container to provide up to 16 homeless people with a temporary roof over their heads on any given winter night, are heated, lit, have reading lamps, smoke detectors, a handicapped accessible washroom, hot water, with two beds in each, an office for two highly trained and caring staff, and would be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to keep people alive. They can bring their belongings, their shopping carts, even their dog. When they leave in the morning they can go over to Radiant Life Church where breakfast is on at 6:30 a.m.

“It has not been done anywhere on the Island,” said Mason, who has a long local history of working with the most vulnerable members of the community. “This is a safe low barrier shelter, centrally located, mobile, and a temporary measure for the winter. We have already had a pretty bad storm and without an extreme weather shelter which would normally be opening around now, the need is immediate.”

This year there is no extreme weather shelter at the Lighthouse as in past years. In the past it provided mats and shelter for about 14 people from October to March.

“The only shelter is Evergreen, it is out of the town centre, quite the jaunt for someone who is cold, hungry and tired, and not open to anyone with addictions,” said Mason. “They have a zero tolerance policy. So when the police find someone sleeping or passed out in the cold, they bring them to the hospital where they are assesessed. That has to cost about $1,000, then they either go to Evergreen if they are not using, or to cells which costs more money and more police time off the road doing what they should be doing. Well, with this pilot project they can come straight to us instead of going to cells and tying up the RCMP time and funds.

“This can be a feather in the cap for Campbell River and as a pilot project, the money will come from BC Housing through the CR Housing Resource Centre. It won’t cost Campbell River taxpayers anything while we showcase this safe shelter.”

Shadow Lines Transportation Group of Langley is the company behind this idea, and has a unit ready to go.

This same unit was used to house people who lost homes to the flooding in Hay River, Alberta earlier this year. The concept is being tried in Chilliwack by the Salvation Army. The doors don’t lock, but the shelter is surrounded by a six-foot high fence with a locking gate that is reportedly set up in 15 minutes. There are no in-and-out privileges, The shelter is designed to be delivered every evening, picked up at dawn, pressure washed, disinfected and recharged, and then returned to the compound again the next day.

Mason says what they need now is public support. “Write to the paper, call the mayor, tell council that we must get this now or people will die,” he said. “Instead of hiding these people, come out and be generous as Campbell River is known for. We can’t not have this, until we figure out a permanent solution.”

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