‘Most people in Chemainus won’t even notice it:’ Temporary outdoor homeless campsites proposed in North Cowichan

'Most people in Chemainus won’t even notice it:' Temporary outdoor homeless campsites proposed in North Cowichan
WatchNorth Cowichan is taking action in an effort to stop the potential of a COVID-19 spread among the homeless population. It is setting up small tenting sites. They will be limited to 12 homeless at each site, and as Skye Ryan reports, by offering showers and social services, they hope to ultimately help many get off the streets for good.

Fuller Lake Arena in Chemainus could become the temporary home of a homeless camp.

According to a press release issued by the Municipality of North Cowichan, a recently established regional COVID-19 task force for vulnerable populations has received approval from BC Housing to implement a plan that would provide temporary tenting or camping sites for homeless people in the Cowichan Valley.

The municipality says the task force has identified between six to eight potential temporary tenting sites and that one of the chosen sites is the south Fuller Lake Arena in Chemainus.

“The site in the arena parking lot is out of the way, and provides both privacy and security to those who reside there. Ideally, most people in Chemainus won’t even notice it,” said North Cowichan mayor Al Siebring in a press release.

The site will include involvement from on-the-ground service providers such as Cowichan Neighbourhood House, who interact daily with the Chemainus homeless population and know each of them individually, according to the release.

The Rapid Relief Fund, organized by the Victoria Foundation, Jawl Foundation, and Times Colonist is providing $220,000 towards the initiative and BC Housing is providing an additional $172,000.

The camp’s residents will be those who are already living in the Chemainus area.

Ken Scrimbit is one of the estimated 130 homeless in the region. Without a place to lock up his belongings, he said he is a constant target of theft. At 62 and living on the streets, Scrimbit is at one of the highest risks for COVID-19.

His tent was stolen overnight.

“They stole it,” said the homeless North Cowichan resident.

“I couldn’t believe it.”

The plan submitted to BC Housing by the regional task force aims to house homeless people in the Cowichan Valley in what it describes as small-scale family-cluster tenting sites. These outdoor tenting sites would accommodate up to 12 people.

“We are trying to avoid clustering everyone into a large encampment,” said Siebring.

“Part of this is in the context of COVID. Everybody before this will be tested for COVID if they test positive there will be hotel rooms that will be provided by Island Health.”

There is also a long-term plan aimed at transitioning these individuals into more permanent housing once the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. The goal, the release says, is to ensure these temporary tenting sites do not remain in the community long term.

“This is a two-month program for this summer,” said Siebring.

“We are working at the same time with BC Housing and other senior agencies to try to get funding for modular housing so that when this kind of encampment is struck those folks have a place to go to.”

Neighbours are already voicing opposition, but Mayor Al Siebring urges people to give the plan a chance and insists security and social services will be a constant at these sites, to ensure everyone’s safety through the pandemic.

A final decision on the use of the Fuller Lake site is expected later this week.


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