Ladysmith town council voted to grant a six month extension to the Ladysmith Resources Centre Association (LRCA) and BC Housing for the Island Hotel temporary homeless shelter.
The ten-bed facility opened in May with a temporary use permit, which was set to expire this month. After a long discussion, council went against town staff’s recommendation to deny the extension and granted an extension until March 2022.
BC Housing has already provided $250,000 to renovate the facility and the LRCA has committed to providing 24/7 supports to the vulnerable population, according to Heidi Hartman, BC Housing regional director.
“Certainly with the increase of COVID cases we have seen in the province due to the variant, continued shelter operation at the Island [Hotel] is even more important,” Hartman said in a presentation to council on Sept. 20.
Coun. Jeff Virtanen said he was disappointed in the staff recommendation to deny the extension. “It feels like we are negotiating with people’s lives here. We are playing a pretty risky game of poker. I am not saying BC Housing is perfect… but they are coming asking us for six months,” he said. “Six months is nothing.”
The shelter offers meals, showers and harm reduction to clients and houses about 6–9 people per night, more than half women, according to Aaron Hungar, LRCA housing and outreach services manager.
“We have people right now who have no mental health issues, have no substance abuse issues — they are in there simply because there is no affordable housing,” Hungar said. “They have been removed, kicked out or evicted from their place because they can’t afford to be where they were and they can’t find anything.”
An average of 341 meals have been served per month at the Island Hotel since the shelter opened, according to LRCA stats submitted to the town. Nobody has been turned away from the site, but the stats show a steady increase in usage. Hungar attributes this to simply having more space to accommodate people, which the association did not have at its old site in the Rialto building.
Coun. Duck Paterson expressed frustration that the issue of homelessness should be dealt with at a provincial level, rather than municipal.
Mayor Aaron Stone said he was disappointed council was not looking at a more permanent solution, but acknowledged the help the facility has provided for the vulnerable population. “We are talking about the lives of human beings that are living the worst possible life and situation we can even imagine,” he said.
Coun. Rob Johnson’s motion to extend the permit was carried unanimously. The motion included terms to receive a transition plan from the LRCA and BC Housing before the end of January.