A winter shelter at the Oliver United Church has been put on ice, after town council asked for a public information meeting to be held first.
At the Monday, Nov. 9 evening meeting, council directed staff to organize an information meeting with the proponents of the homeless shelter – both Desert Sun Counselling & Resource Centre and the United Church.
If approved down the road, this would be Oliver’s first homeless shelter.
Marieze Tarr, Desert Sun’s executive director outlined the need for a temporary emergency shelter in Oliver.
“We tend to look at the homeless as people other than ourselves. But they are someone’s mom or child. Do we want to ignore them? At Desert Sun we want to work with them to end the cycle of homelessness to provide them the transition to housing. We want to give them a hand up, not a handout,” said Tarr.
Desert Sun Counselling & Resource Centre is seeking a three-year temporary use permit to operate the winter shelter at the Oliver United Church, with a maximum of 10 beds seasonally (Nov. 1 to March 30), and to store one metal storage container to hold people’s personal belongings.
The Housing Needs Report, completed in early January 2020, identifies there are no shelter beds or housing units for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in the Town of Oliver.
As of December 2019, there are an estimated 50 youth who are couch surfing and 32-40 people who are homeless or living in trailers, vehicles and even tents.
Many of the people living in trailers or vehicles do not have access to safe winter heating, said the report.
Oliver staff recommended council support the application based on the shelter’s close proximity to town and the need in the community to shelter those living on the streets. Some residents have expressed concern about the shelter being in a residential neighbourhood. Several showed up at the meeting.
The church currently has no separation between one home and its side emergency exit door.
It was Coun. Larry Schwartzenberger who proposed the public meeting, expressing his concern for the location.
A condition of the permit is to provide adequate emergency egress from the south side of the building to the street and to provide privacy from the residence beside the church at 6242 Kootenay Street. A fence would be installed along the eastern half of the south property line and emergency access to the street would be provided through the existing rock wall.
Council also asked that staff look for other locations besides the United Church. Results from the information meeting will be compiled and provided to council at a future meeting.
No date has been set yet for that public meeting, confirmed Matt Saunders, deputy corporate officer on Thursday, Nov 12.
The basement of the church has an existing kitchen, along with bathroom facilities and a separate room that could be cordoned off if a resident has COVID-19 symptoms.
A small renovation will occur to add a shower and laundry facilities, along with minor building code upgrades. The metal storage container will be located at the southwest corner of the property, enabling clients to store their belongings in a safe place during the time that the shelter is in operation.
The facility will be high-barrier, meaning clients have to be homeless and cannot have consumed drugs or alcohol on the day they are entering the shelter.
The shelter’s operation has to get the support of BC Housing in order to go forward. Desert Sun will approach BC Housing if they receive the permit from Oliver.