The Cowichan Housing Association is looking for land to establish another supportive housing site in the region.
The CHA’s grant application for $2.5 million from the UBCM Strengthening Communities’ Services funding program was successful, and the association now needs to lease a 1.5-acre piece of property, or multiple smaller parcels of land, for one year for a third site to place a number of sleeping cabins for homeless people in the area.
Andrew Wilson, a project planner with the CHA, said the plan is to use some of the grant funding to place 46 sleeping cabins at the new site, and the homeless people who will reside there will have access to wrap-around services like the other two sites in the area with sleeping cabins.
The new site will be called Dignity Village, which will be based on a successful homeless community that has been established in Portland, Oregon.
“We’ve turned every stone in the search for the site of this area’s Dignity Village with no success, so now we’re appealing to the public to helps find a site, or sites, to lease,” Wilson said.
Anyone who can help can contact the CHA at 250-597-1938 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wilson said there are currently a total of 66 homeless people staying at the city-owned lot on St. Julien Street, a site on Government Street known as “The Mound,” and at the Ramada Hotel.
He said BC Housing’s two supportive-housing projects, which will provide approximately 100 new housing units in the Cowichan Valley, will be able to house many of the local homeless people when complete.
But more housing and supports are needed.
“When the last homeless count in the area was done just before the pandemic hit last year, there were about 130 people counted,” Wilson said.
“But there are now more than 270 people on the waiting list for BC Housing’s supportive housing units, so the need for more supportive housing for the homeless is growing.”
To get the full $2.5-million grant, each local government in the Valley, including the Town of Lake Cowichan, Municipality of North Cowichan, Town of Ladysmith and the City of Duncan, had to pass resolutions that clearly stated approval for the primary applicant, which was the Cowichan Valley Regional District, to apply for and manage the grant funding on their behalf.
As part of the requirements for the funding, the UCBM states that all the money must be spent within 12 months.
Wilson said, as well as setting up Dignity Village with the new funding, six temporary sleeping cabins for the homeless, also with wrap-around services, will be established at a site in Lake Cowichan owned by the town.
As well, the Town of Ladysmith will also have incremental services, including outreach support, added to the town’s existing shelter facility.
Guido Weisz, vice-chairman of the CHA, said the sites on St. Julien Street and The Mound have proven greatly successful in achieving a number of goals in the more than a year that they have been in place.
He said the first is harm reduction in that people living outdoors are vulnerable to the climate and violence, and mortality rates for those living on the streets is much higher than in the general population.
Weisz said the sites also provide opportunities for the homeless to have access to much needed social services and help them move toward getting permanent living quarters.
“These cabins have proven highly effective in achieving these goals,” he said.
“What we’re seeing is great improvements physically and mentally with many of the people living at these sites. While all three levels of government have stepped up to help in the Cowichan region, we could see even greater reductions in the numbers of homeless if the political and financial will was there to do it.”