A winter-weather women’s shelter is expected to open later this month after North Cowichan’s council unanimously gave it a green light this week.
Council faced a packed house at its public meeting on Wednesday to discuss whether the municipality would issue a temporary use permit to the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society to use a School District 79 building on University Way for the shelter.
A number of speakers and letter writers expressed concerns that the location is inappropriate for such a purpose, with some pointing out possible problems with a shelter being placed adjacent to a children’s play centre called Wendy’s House.
But many of the approximately 25 speakers who talked to council about the issue pointed out how necessary it is to look after women in distress in the community.
“We’re thrilled that the community’s support has finally come together to help provide a safe, warm place for local women to sleep this winter,” says Melaina Patenaude, community impact officer for the United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island.
“Last year, the Cowichan Coalition to Address Homelessness and Housing identified the dire need for the shelter, based on the homeless count data and feedback from United Way’s partner agencies. From this, United Way initiated an emergency winter response action team that has worked diligently over the past 15 months to make this shelter a reality.”
Other proposed locations for an emergency shelter for women, including the old school building on Cairnsmore Street and one the old Charles Hoey School in Duncan, have already been rejected by the City of Duncan’s previous council, largely due to protests from neighbours.
Under the temporary permit, the shelter is allowed to open nightly between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. until March 31, 2019.
The permit also includes conditions that require security measures and daily sweeps of the site to ensure that it is clean and safe.
“Decisions about shelters can be difficult,” says Al Siebring, mayor of North Cowichan.
“North Cowichan council has demonstrated enormous resolve and supported this application wholeheartedly. Council also commends the Cowichan Valley School District for making its land available for this shelter. Supporting initiatives like this makes our communities stronger.”
Funding for the shelter has been approved by BC Housing for this coming winter.
According to a staff report, which recommended the application for the shelter be approved, “The site is ideally located to services and day-time warming places (i.e. the library, coffee shops), some social services, as well as the RCMP station.”
Now that the permit has been granted, CWAV will finalize fire safety upgrades to the building, hire shelter staff, and prepare the building with the goal opening on Dec. 20.
“The Cowichan Women Against Violence Society is committed to working collaboratively with the Cowichan Valley community in finding solutions to challenging situations,” said CWAV executive director Debbie Berg.
“This project will allow us to provide dignity to the vulnerable and safety to the community. If you would like to help us with some donations, we will be open to receiving clean warm socks, mitts, scarves, hygiene products, personal items such as soap, small shampoos, toothbrushes, and toothpaste.”