The province wants local governments and stakeholders in the Cowichan Valley to submit a plan to deal with homeless issues in the region.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said at the council meeting on Feb. 20 that Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau had arranged a conference call between Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson, Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples, Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour, representatives from the Island Corridor Foundation, senior officials from BC Housing and him to discuss the issue.
“While there was no absolute commitment from the minister, she strongly indicated that BC Housing would look very, very favourably on any application to move forward with low-barrier temporary housing for the homeless, with the preferred model including the provision of land by one or more of the partners on which this housing could be co-located,” Siebring said.
“Staff is working on preparing some options to that end.”
Siebring said the conference call was arranged after a meeting in January in which both the ICF and Cowichan Tribes expressed concern about a homeless camp on ICF property near the black bridge in south Duncan.
He said the homeless camp was also encroaching on Cowichan Tribes land, prompting concerns from Chief Seymour.
Melissa Joe, a 28 year-old Cowichan Tribes member, was killed and two men injured when a tent in a homeless camp in that area was crushed by a falling tree during the major windstorm that struck the area on Dec. 20.
“At that initial meeting, there was talk of taking action to remove that encampment, but everyone at the table at that time expressed concern that doing this in a vacuum would just ‘move’ the situation somewhere else,” Siebring said.
“Rather than doing that, it was determined that it might be advantageous to come up with a strategy to deal with the situation before simply initiating a removal from private property.”
Siebring said that’s how the conference call with the minister, held last week, originated.
“Minister Robinson clearly understood the problem, and she seemed very impressed at the notion that all local governments, First Nations, and even the school district were working together on this,” he said.
“She also appeared quite heartened at the news that the stakeholders had committed money toward the joint funding of a consultant to work toward the ‘Safer Community Plan’ along the highway corridor, which crosses all the various jurisdictions.”