The prolonged spell of damp, foggy weather and the onset of colder nights may have made people miserable. But for some in the community, it’s way more serious than just feeling downcast. Those on the streets without a home have been flocking to the Salvation Army’s emergency shelter in search of warmth. But for 56 callers over the past two to three weeks, there has simply been no more room, so they have had to be turned away.
“We’ve had an abnormally high turnaway rate this month,” said the Salvation Army’s community services director, Brent Hobden. “It’s very distressing, but we just didn’t have space to help any more. The shelter has been very, very full.”
And when Hobden stepped out of his office at the thrift store on Kilpatrick Avenue first thing Tuesday morning, he found a man had resorted to setting up a lean-to for shelter, using a mattress and old furniture left outside the building alongside a dumpster. “I gave him a coffee and checked he was OK. But he was really cold,” said Hobson.
“We’re not absolutely sure why so many people have been on our doorstep (at the shelter) these past two or three weeks, but everyone knows it’s been super-cold at night and the fog – and the dampness that goes with it – have made it very difficult for people living outdoors to stay dry.”
The official Pidcock Avenue shelter has 14 emergency beds funded by B.C. Housing and another four provided by the Salvation Army, which operates the whole facility.
“We desperately need more space,” Hobson added. “We need a new shelter. There are wonderful plans kicking around, but they are no more than plans and they are being kicked around.”
The chair of the Comox Valley Housing Task Force, Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard, said when she heard of accounts of people being turned away and others of people setting up makeshift shelters by dumpsters, it broke her heart.
“When are we going to get to a ‘yes’ on a new shelter and stop closing doors on people?” she asked. “At some point we have to acknowledge we have a problem in this community that we have to address.”
It wasn’t just the issue of emergency shelter needs – housing issues ranged from people sleeping rough through to ensuring there was affordable housing for working people.
Last week the task force held a forum to explore many issues related to housing provision locally and she was hopeful the positive views expressed there would lead to positive steps being taken to progress some projects.
“Important new relationships were forged and I hope they will lead to some positive outcomes,” she commented. “We really have to start moving forward.”