Work is underway to open a cold weather emergency shelter at the Salvation Army in Gibsons.
Sunshine Coast Salvation Army director Darrel Pilgrim confirmed the expected site location at 682 Gibsons Way, as did Town of Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish through an email supplied to Coast Reporter.
“It’s very encouraging to see it is coming together,” said Beamish in a follow-up interview, adding BC Housing is still looking to hire shift workers for the overnight shelter.
In a Jan. 12 statement, BC Housing senior communications advisor Matthew Borghese told Coast Reporter BC Housing and partners “are close to finding additional temporary shelter on the Sunshine Coast,” and would be confirming the site “in the near future.”
He also said BC Housing is collaborating with VCH and non-profit partners to build staffing capacity “to serve the growing needs of the region.”
“Staffing is a challenge across British Columbia, and can be even more pronounced in smaller communities like the Sunshine Coast,” he said.
BC Housing is funding the shelter, the Sunshine Coast Homeless Advisory Committee is assisting with management and the Salvation Army is providing administrative support, Pilgrim said.
“There’s been volunteers hard at work over the past month to bring all the different aspects of it together and we’re hoping that within the next week to 10 days we’ll have something open to serve the community,” Pilgrim told Coast Reporter Jan. 12.
Maximum capacity at the site is five people due to COVID-19 physical distancing requirements, said Pilgrim, and if demand exceeds those five beds, a possible larger space in Gibsons may be sought out.
“We’re excited that we’re able to be a partner in providing this to the community,” said Pilgrim. “The need is there and we don’t think anybody should have to sleep rough this time of year.”
Beamish said council is “very supportive” of the shelter, and in terms of demand, “We won’t know until people come to the door.”
“Clearly I wish we would have had an earlier start on this,” he added.
In 2019 an emergency shelter was established Dec. 1 in Gibsons and in 2018 one opened Dec. 12. Cold weather shelters typically open in November in the province.
Finding an appropriate location and adequate staff appear to have contributed to this year’s delay.
In November, Beamish said last year’s emergency shelter accommodated approximately 12 people and noted COVID-19 would make it more difficult to find a suitable space.
He convened council and representatives from RainCity Housing, the Sunshine Coast Regional District, the Gibsons Library director and Vancouver Coastal Health to discuss the issue.
By mid-December, a shelter was still not available.
Instead, BC Housing entered into a contract with Blue Sky Motel in Davis Bay to manage 11 rooms for people experiencing homelessness “and other at-risk populations,” as it continued to look for an emergency shelter option in Gibsons – a contract that also involved rehousing residents of the motel.
In a letter from a Dec. 15 Gibsons council meeting agenda, BC Housing Lower Mainland director Naomi Brunemeyer blamed a lack of “non-profit staff” available to “provide additional shelter support services on the coast right now.”
Council expressed frustration at the delay and asked to meet to discuss communication issues with the organization.
Since meeting with BC Housing, “things have improved significantly,” said Beamish.
On Jan. 12, Borghese said BC Housing would not be renewing its contract with the Blue Sky Motel, set to end Feb. 2, because the site is scheduled to undergo renovation.
He added that BC Housing is “committed to ensuring all residents of Blue Sky Motel are connected with housing options before the site closes.”
As a result of COVID-19, last May BC Housing also entered into a contract with Royal Reach at 5758 Wharf Ave. in Sechelt to provide 14 rooms to people in need of housing. That contract has been extended, according to Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers.
Siegers said the district has received almost no complaints about Sechelt sites being used to shelter people from Gibsons.
“I think there’s a recognition that people need to be housed, particularly when we’ve got rainy, cold weather,” she said, adding a long-term solution is needed – one that doesn’t include housing people in motels.
A 2020 homeless count for Sechelt, Gibsons and Roberts Creek showed the number of unhoused people has nearly doubled since 2018 to 84 from 57.