With winter approaching, RainCity Housing, the operators of the Sunshine Coast’s only homeless shelter, are once again expecting demand for spaces will far outweigh the 20 beds at the Upper Deck on Wharf Avenue.
In a presentation for the Sechelt Public Library’s Tuesday Talks series on Nov. 6, Nick Gaskin, the manager of Sunshine Coast Homelessness Services for RainCity, said the Upper Deck shelter has been full every night since it opened last December.
Gaskin said they have to turn away five to 10 people on any given day, and spaces are allotted to the most vulnerable clients with women and seniors getting priority. No one can stay long-term.
Gaskin also told the audience that while they don’t have enough beds to meet the need, having a location that’s open 24/7 means they can offer meals, drop-in space, and a host of other services that were a lot harder to deliver when they were operating out of the annex at St. Hilda’s church.
“A lot of people on the outside think we just provide a hot meal and a bed, but it’s a lot more complex than that,” Gaskin said. The bulk of the services include mental health support and harm reduction, which now includes drug screening to detect fentanyl contamination and naloxone training.
A census of homeless people on the Sunshine Coast conducted in late April found 57 people who identified as homeless in the Sechelt-Gibsons corridor, but Gaskin said based on what they see at RainCity, the number is likely 150 to 200 for the whole Coast.
Gaskin said RainCity helps many of those homeless through its outreach program.
In February and March the shelter space in Sechelt was supplemented by 15 spaces at a seasonal shelter that was set up at a Gower Point Road property owned by a local church, not long after some homeless people started camping in Inglis Park at the Five Corners intersection in Gibsons Landing. The shelter saw 13 to 15 clients every night until the seasonal funding ran out on March 3, according to Gaskin.
Homeless campers haven not been unusual in Gibsons in recent years, and a Parks Department report in February noted that there have also been a number of people living in vehicles.
Over the summer there was a group of around a dozen people camping at the Town’s public works yard at 722 School Road, but chief administrator Emanuel Machado told Coast Reporter that those campers have since moved on.
However, funding for a seasonal shelter for Gibsons was not included in an Oct. 31 provincial announcement.
Gaskin told the Sechelt Library audience that RainCity is not directly involved in finding or funding shelter spaces, but gets brought in to manage shelters after the other arrangements are in place.
Machado said the permits that allowed the temporary shelter at 599 Gower Point Road are still valid, and there have been discussions about having a shelter there or at another location in the Town this winter.
The Town is also continuing its efforts to take over the former RCMP building on School Road for supportive housing or similar services.
The province has not closed the door on shelter funding for this winter and the Oct. 31 release said, “More extreme weather response shelters may be added throughout the season.”
The 40-unit supportive housing project slated for a lot near the Upper Deck shelter is going through the final approvals form the District of Sechelt and is expected to open in the spring of 2019.
BC Housing’s lease at the Upper Deck runs until April of 2020.
As the Sechelt shelter readies for the winter season it’s also taking donations of tents, sleeping bags and clothing and encouraging people to sign up to bring a meal.
Gaskin said the community support, including donations, has been incredible since RainCity first started working on the Coast.
For information on current needs at the shelter, watch the Sunshine Coast Homelessness Services Facebook page, or contact the shelter at 604-740-8160.
You can sign up to provide meals through the Take Them A Meal website:
Financial donations can be made online at www.raincityhousing.org.