Nanaimo city council has taken steps to support and encourage the opening of more homeless shelters in the city by waiving a requirement for shelters to meet current building and fire codes.
There are a few conditions though.
Council passed a policy to protect itself from liability while at the same time giving those who operate shelters some breathing room.
The shelter at the Unitarian Church is among those who will get a reprieve. It’s provided space for 24 beds, plus two emergency beds, for the vulnerable year-round for 15 years.
“This is the electrical panel that needs to be moved in the kitchen because it’s too close to the stove,” said Ron Wilson as he toured CHEK News through the shelter Friday.
The 77-year-old building is no longer up to building and fire codes and to bring it into compliance will cost an estimated $120,000 to $150,000, a huge amount for a small congregation of nearly 80 members.
This past week, Nanaimo council passed a policy not to require emergency shelters and warming/cooling centres to be up to building or fire codes as long as the operator is demonstrating continuing and reasonable efforts to satisfy the codes and is also seeking BC Housing funding for upgrades.
“There’s an issue around liability and we have an obligation to inspect for purposes of the building code and fire code, but it also draws attention for the need for shelter in our community,” said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog.
Besides helping existing shelters, council hopes the policy will help other much needed shelters open. Those running the Unitarian Church shelter are relieved.
“Up until that particular resolution being passed, at any day they could have shut us down. Now if we have a plan and are effectively working on that plan we will be able to stay open,” said Wilson.
The church is asking people who want to help the homeless to support their much-needed renovations. You can find donation details on their website.
Joshua Holmes has been sleeping outside because the shelters have no extra space.
He says he supports council’s policy.
“There needs to be more shelters,” said Holmes. He also said he doesn’t necessarily care if a shelter is not up to code.
“No, to a certain degree, but not really. As long as it’s not falling apart,” he said.
He just says there should be enough shelters so no one is forced to be sleeping outside.