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Repairs are set to start at the Wharf Avenue homeless shelter in Sechelt

Agencies have been negotiating to permit nearby tents to stay in place while the work is under way
Rebecca Rose strums her guitar June 15 as contractors put up fencing around BC Housing's Upper Deck shelter for repairs. Rose has set up her camp on the lawn by the building and isn't planning on moving.

Residents of encampments on BC Housing’s Upper Deck shelter property received a reprieve from eviction – for now. 

Repairs after fire

Four months after the lower Sunshine Coast’s only year-round homeless shelter closed due to fire, remediation work is ready to start at the Wharf Ave. location. But to prepare the site for construction, BC Housing started installing fencing around the shelter June 15 and asking the people staying in the vicinity to move. 

BC Housing cited health and safety hazards for people in close proximity to sites under renovation because of fire, in a statement to Coast Reporter June 15. They said they’re “working closely with” RainCity to install security fencing for this reason. “RainCity will be working directly with those camping in the area to support individuals willing to voluntarily relocate in the coming days.” 

There are two areas close to the building where people have set up tents: one against the side of the building and one in a grassy area next to the parking lot. 

On Thursday, BC Housing met with the District of Sechelt and community agencies to find a temporary solution. 

Better solution needed

“We need a better solution than just fencing off the lawn and kicking everyone out,” Sean Ramsay, of the Sunshine Coast Community Action Team, told Coast Reporter on June 15. 

“It's not safe to operate a construction site next to an encampment, so they're asking for the encampment to be removed before construction begins. It puts everyone between a rock and a hard place.

“There's no alternative site in place and we're asking that an alternative location be provided before anyone’s moved.” 

As of Thursday afternoon, the parties had come to a compromise that allows residents to stay in one partially fenced portion of the site while allowing contractors to do their work in another fenced portion of the site, Ramsay told Coast Reporter Friday morning.

“Perhaps this will be the sanctioned area where people are allowed to camp going forward, at least until the end of construction, would be my hope,” he said. 

St. Hilda’s temporary shelter

The Upper Deck shelter temporarily closed after a fire in February triggered extensive water damage in the building (owned by BC Housing and operated by RainCity Housing and Support Society). 

After an extensive search to find a temporary shelter location, St. Hilda’s Anglican Church set up 20 beds in its annex at 5850 Barnacle Street more than two weeks later. At the time of the fire, 34 people were staying at the Wharf Ave. shelter, BC Housing told Coast Reporter in February. Associate director of RainCity, Mandy Hardwick, told Coast Reporter the shelter repairs are expected to be finished at the end of October.

The District of Sechelt adopted new fines against the "unauthorized use" of vacant land on private property in December 2022. When asked if council is reconsidering enforcement, given the lack of shelter for unhoused people, Rowe said it has not come back to council.

Rebecca Rose at her camp on Wharf Avenue, June 15, 2023. Bronwyn Beairsto photo

'I feel exiled'

Rebecca Rose is living on the lawn beside the Wharf Ave. shelter. She says the conditions at St. Hilda’s are inadequate and she doesn’t feel safe with men and women in sleeping in the same room. She added that there are no showers, no computer or phone access, no cooking space, no social area or private space to dress at St. Hilda's. 

She is asking for BC Housing and the government to step up for displaced people in Sechelt. 

“We're Canadian citizens. We deserve water security, communication, hygiene, availability of food and a door,” she said. “I'm not asking for much: A toilet seat, some lights, running water, something to cook with and a door.” 

When the fencing started going up at the Wharf Ave. site, Rose set up a line of chairs and parked herself at the entrance to her camp – which she’s fitted out with her tent, reading nook, guest tent, cooking area and compostable toilet – and said she’s not moving. She has nowhere else to go.

“I feel exiled from my country, from my human rights.”

Daily inter-agency calls

The District of Sechelt said in a statement that it is working with BC Housing to find other options and is “hopeful BC Housing will bring a support team to Sechelt that can provide assistance and source resources for those unhoused until the shelter is back up and running again.” 

“We are super happy that the renovations are starting,” Brenda Rowe, the acting mayor of Sechelt, said.

“We are very aware that the renovation of this shelter does not solve the issues being experienced by our community or by the people that are unhoused,” Rowe said. “We are going to be very strong advocates with regards to more funding to support the unhoused population… treatment beds, etc., because we know that there are huge gaps in many services that are not offered.” 

Since the February fire, BC Housing, RainCity and District of Sechelt staff have had weekly updates on the shelter situation. As of June 16, Rowe said, those agencies will have daily calls until a solution is found. 

The Arrowhead Clubhouse in Sechelt is the only drop-in site for mental health issues and recently got funding to open for five days a week. “I’d love to see them open seven days a week and into the evening,” Rowe said. 

Last week, consultants came to Sechelt and spent two days collecting information from focus groups in order to consider making a “hub” in the community where people can access services such as showers, similar to Maple Ridge. A report is expected to come to council in the coming months. Next week, Sechelt’s Community Safety Task Force will have its first official meeting. 

When the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) meets in September, District of Sechelt council plans to advocate for funding and government support for mental health and addiction, Rowe said.

– With files from Bronwyn Beairsto