Town Council has voted to grant a temporary use permit for BC Housing to utilize the Island Hotel as a temporary homeless shelter for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The facility will house up to 15 people and includes support services. It will be limited to the first floor of the building. There are existing tenanted apartments on the second and third floors that will remain unchanged by the proposed shelter.
The Ladysmith Resources Centre Association (LRCA) will operate the facility on behalf of BC Housing. Support services will include meals, shower and laundry facilities, as well as health care and first aid as required.
There will be daily cleaning of the indoor facilities, and adjacent public spaces including removing litter and drug paraphernalia if required.
Councillors Duck Paterson and Amanda Jacobson voted against granting the permit. Paterson said that the proposal is a stop-gap measure, and won’t effectively address homelessness in Ladysmith.
“The need of the individuals that we are discussing is very important, and I have compassion for them, but this is by no means even a small fix,” he said. “Right now there is a need for these people to be housed where they are safe and warm. This location is not the right location, and the length of time being requested is not the right time.”
Paterson suggested that the Ladysmith Community Health Centre would be a more suitable location, as there are bathroom, shower, cooking, and laundry facilities. He also noted that there are health care professionals on-site, as well as services for youth and adult mental health.
Jacobson was also in favour of a site at LCHC as a permanent solution, and asked spokespeople from BC Housing and the LRCA about the feasibility of the LCH as a permanent site. Vicky Stickwood Hyslop said that the LRCA would be open to using the LCHC, but said that guidance would need to come from BC Housing and the Town.
The Island Hotel was identified as a site by BC Housing because the site is vacant, and is large enough to accommodate a shelter facility.
Councillor Jeff Virtanen spoke in favour of the proposal, and shared the story of Dave Alton, a man who froze to death while sleeping overnight in the dugout of Aggie Field on Jan. 14, 2013. Alton was living homeless after being evicted from his apartment at 631 First Ave. Virtanen said that if a shelter like the one at the Island Hotel had been available then, perhaps Alton would not have died that night.
“I believe we made a choice that we were going to do something after that,” Virtanen said. “We ended up with an extreme weather shelter. That turned to a cold weather shelter. Because of the pandemic we had a temporary tent site down on Buller. That led us to where we are tonight… I think that history is important. We can’t forget Dave Alton here, this is how it started. We didn’t do anything, and something did happen.”
Council received 16 letters from the public voicing their comments and concerns about the proposed shelter at the Island Hotel. Many letter writers expressed a desire to house Ladysmith’s homeless population, but wrote that the Island Hotel was not a suitable location for the shelter.
Heidi Hartman spoke to council on behalf of BC Housing. Hartman said that there is no official opening date for the shelter, but said that they’re expecting to open in the next few weeks, or at the beginning of April 2021.
After the motion passed, Mayor Aaron Stone shared an optimistic sentiment about the future of the shelter.
“I want to thank BC Housing, our staff, and the LRCA for the months of work that they put in. I know it’s a challenging time and a challenging circumstance… as councillor Paterson summed it up, we need long term solutions to address these issues, not these band-aids. But I will say that in my short time as mayor I’ve seen us go from nothing to something, and that means we’re on a pathway to get where we need to get to in order to appropriately address addictions, mental health and homelessness in British Columbia.”