A CONVERTED shipping container of this type is being used as a homeless shelter in Campbell River.

Terrace homeless shelter search back to square one

Council's rejection of a rezoning application derailed one proposal

The KSAN House Society says it is back to square one in its attempt to find a permanent location for a homeless shelter that would be open during the cold weather months and possibly longer, where it hopes to provide additional services.

It had found a building to buy on Lazelle Ave. in the downtown core but a needed rezoning was rejected by council in a 4-3 vote April 25 after councillors decided the location wasn’t suitable.

The decision left Ksan with a mixed message, said Ksan executive director Amanda Bains last week.

“It’s a bit frustrating because we have been given direction from city staff to look in the downtown area, and now that the city council has rejected our rezoning application, we feel like anything we propose in the downtown area would be rejected,” said Bains.

“So where does that leave us?”

At a public hearing on April 25 which preceded the council vote, councillors heard from a number of business owners and others that businesses downtown would continue to suffer from public intoxication and loitering downtown if council approved of the rezoning and Ksan opened a shelter in the building between the post office and Terrace Interiors.

There were also worries about public safety.

Also presented was a petition of 613 signatures opposing the rezoning as well as over 600 form letters – 423 letters in support and 258 in opposition to the rezone and shelter.

For the past two winters Ksan has rented space overnight at the All Nations Centre on Sparks, close to downtown, for its 20-bed extreme weather shelter but the space did not have adequate kitchen or washroom facilities.

That shelter is popularly called a “damp” shelter because it allows in people who have been drinking.

Ksan also operates a homeless shelter at its Hall St. complex on the southside but that shelter does not allow in people who have been drinking.

Ksan’s seasonal cold weather shelter program is financed by a grant from the provincial BC Housing and its plans for a permanent location could, finances permitting, allow it to be open for a longer period of time and provide a base for programs to help the homeless.

A city-financed survey from April 20-21 this year found that there are 101 homeless in Terrace, increasing from the 74 counted in 2015 and 64 in 2014, with growing numbers of young people.

Bains said Ksan will likely search out another location for a temporary cold weather shelter.

“We are just trying to absorb everything that is coming our way, sift through the information, find out what all our options are,” Bains said.

Finding a permanent location takes time Ksan staffers don’t have, she added.

“This is the type of thing you do off the side of your desk,” she said.

“I really feel like Terrace is stuck with what it has. They are stuck with the status quo, because they are not allowing the people who actually do the work, to do the work,” said Bains.

One suggestion presented to Ksan is to do what Campbell River on Vancouver Island has done – using a converted shipping container.

Fitting up to 16 people, the container has been modified to contain one washroom and eight heated units containing double bunks.

It was donated to Campbell River as a pilot project by Shadow Lands Transportation Group of Vancouver.

Paul Mason from Campbell River Family Services, which now runs the shelter, says that it has proved extremely successful in addressing homelessness in that community’s downtown.

Open for three winters since November 2012, Mason says both RCMP and emergency services reported dramatic reduction in calls for service within the downtown area.

“It’s a lot cheaper to provide something then to do nothing, because the drain on city resources is huge, like the RCMP, the first responders, the ambulance, the emergency room at the hospital. They have all reported dramatic reductions, which financially saves a lot of money,” Mason said.

Providing shelter gives intoxicated people and the homeless a place to go, and helps prevent issues of loitering and scenes of public disorder in public areas, he said.

“We’ve had three seasons using our shelter, and even the business community in town is supportive of it, because now the homeless aren’t sleeping in their doorways or making a mess.

Though it hasn’t changed things during the day, Mason said in the evenings the people come to shelter instead of hanging out at the local Library or community centre. He adds that having the space in the downtown is important so that it is accessible to the homeless.

“There was a group that thought it would be better to put the shelter outside of town, but the homeless would never get there, they would never use it. It has to be where the people are. We have a shelter on the outskirts, but it is too far away for the homeless to go. You have to put it where they are. Then they will use it.. and we have found that they respect it as well, because they know it is there for them,” Mason said.

Speaking about the idea of using a converted-container shelter here in Terrace, Bains from K’san said they are looking more for a permanent place to expand services.

“It does not have any of the amenities that we were already restricted by,” Bains said.

“In Campbell River it was on the side of a church, the church was big partner [and they provided] food in morning and evenings… We want a permanent location. Our goal is to really expand our services for people. Having something so temporary like that doesn’t allow any room for expansion or growth.”

Mason did say the converted shipping container option is not a lasting solution and his goal is to find a permanent facility downtown which can become a service hub open 24/7.

“If you have a centre where the homeless can come, and you have community resources accessible there, then you have the opportunity to engage with them and talk to them and maybe suggest treatment or ask what they need… we know that the homeless population do not access services. We need to bring the services to them,” Mason said.

“You can keep providing services like shelters and lunches, but you are not really doing anything to assist in the reduction in the number of homeless.”

Mason said the shelter has not reduced the number of homeless in Campbell River, which has been increasing and including more young people ages 19-20 – many coming out of the foster system.