Gibsons Mayor Bill Beamish is hoping to have some sort of shelter space available for homeless people this winter, and he’s suggesting a recent infusion of safe restart funding could provide the money needed to make it happen.
The Town will be getting $1.5 million through the federal-provincial safe restart agreement and councillors had their first chance to consider how the money will be used at their Nov. 17 committee of the whole meeting.
In her report to the committee, director of finance Lorraine Coughlin said the grant is intended “to support the Town as we deal with increased operating costs and lower revenue due to COVID-19 and ensure that we can continue to deliver services to residents.”
Several councillors said they’re also looking for more information on whether the money can be used to support various community groups whose operations have been impacted by the pandemic.
The safe restart grant can be used for “services for vulnerable persons” and Beamish said using some of it to support a winter shelter for the homeless makes sense because the cost of shelter space that meets distancing and other COVID protection requirements would be more expensive than the typical extreme weather shelter.
“The space we had last year could accommodate about 12 people,” Beamish said. “This year that same space would likely accommodate four people socially distant, so that that’s one of the problems this whole thing presents to us.”
Beamish raised the need for a shelter again at the council meeting that evening, noting that at the moment there aren’t any plans for shelter space or other supports for the homeless in the Town this winter.
“If we don’t do anything, we are ensuring that the homeless are out in the cold, at least until the supportive housing is developed,” Beamish said. “And that is only for those people who qualify for going into supportive housing and that may not be all the homeless in our community.”
Beamish said there has been discussion around making it easier for people in Gibsons to access the shelter in Sechelt, “but I’m not sure that it’s a satisfactory solution for people in our community.”
Beamish brought council together Nov. 18 with representatives from RainCity Housing, the reginal district, Vancouver Coastal Health and the director of the Gibsons Public Library - which has a key role as a space for people with nowhere else to go during the day.
“We need to talk about this. We can’t leave people out in the cold,” Beamish said. “We're not talking location right now, we’re talking getting a program going.”