North Cowichan residents report increase in homelessness since COVID-19 pandemic began

North Cowichan residents report increase in homelessness since COVID-19 pandemic began
WatchThere's growing frustration on North Cowichan's Lewis Street where residents say homelessness and drugs are taking over their neighbourhood. According to neighbours, the COVID-19 crisis appears to have made matters worse.

Residents of North Cowichan’s Lewis Street were relieved Monday as teams of landscapers wielded weed eaters on a vacant lot that’s become a hideout for illegal drug use and homelessness.

North Cowichan bylaws ordered that the vacant lot be cut after homeless people moved out.

But senior Nancy Rankin said homeless have just moved a few metres away to the sidewalk in front of the Warmland House Shelter.

“It’s very scary,” said 66-year-old Nancy Rankin.

“And you know I won’t even walk around the block and I should be walking.”

“There’s about 800 families here in this area,” said North Cowichan resident Larry Woodruff.

“And 85 per cent of them are seniors so we can’t even walk up the street without fearing for our lives,” said the 79-year-old.

According to residents, the number of homeless and drug-addicted seemed to drop briefly, when weeks ago, five tenting sites were set up throughout North Cowichan to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But neighbours said new faces have now shown up during the COVID-19 crisis.

“There’s a lot of people on the street today that weren’t on the street before the pandemic,” said Woodruff.

“Because when the pandemic hit they lost their jobs.”

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said Monday, he understands the residents’ concerns and insisted staff are working on this.

“There does appear to be some new people,” said Siebring.

“I know that the messaging to those people is if you’re not accessing services, you don’t belong here, go back to where you came from and access the services there,” he said.

“That’s a little bit blunt. I know there’s been concern in community that if you build it, they will come and we’re trying not to have that happen.”

The funding for the temporary tenting sites runs out at the end of this month, but according to Siebring, he is confident new funding will be announced for longer-term housing that will ultimately get homeless off the streets.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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