The Ladysmith Resource Centre Association is seeking approval from the Town to allow the extreme weather shelter space located downtown to remain open all winter regardless of conditions outside.
The Extreme Weather Resource Shelter (EWRS) operated out of the basement of Bethel Church for two winters before opening its doors for the first full winter last year at 631 First Avenue.
During the 2017/18 season the shelter was open to those in need 121 out of the 151 nights from Nov. 1 to March 31. That figure represented a 54 per cent increase over the 2015/16 winter.
Additionally, 650 people accessed the shelter last year compared to 171 two years ago.
Town council reviewed a temporary use permit (TUP) application for the shelter as part of its meeting on Monday.
Council unanimously approved allowing the LRCA to proceed with a required neighbourhood information meeting and, prior to voting on whether to grant the TUP, asked the organization to provide a report back with any public input.
In addition to statutory notices being published in the newspaper as well as distributed to residents and businesses within 60 metres of the shelter, councillor Duck Paterson asked that both the Chamber of Commerce and the Ladysmith Downtown Business Association be informed.
LRCA executive director Christy Wood told the Chronicle that the demand for shelter services and the increase in guests is at least partly due to the better accessibility with the shelter now on First Avenue.
“However, if you look at statistics everywhere the waitlists and the full shelters in Nanaimo and Duncan definitely show the need because a lot of folks from Ladysmith, if we’re not open, will go up to Nanaimo or Duncan. It’s an unfortunate trend that we’re just seeing everywhere,” Wood said.
If approved, the TUP would allow the LRCA to operate the shelter all winter for up to three years before applying for a renewal.
Currently, the LRCA can only open the EWRS subject to B.C. Housing’s criteria for extreme weather which are temperatures of zero or below, three days of straight rain or a windstorm.
Funding has already been secured from the province to open all 151 days of winter from November to the end of March.
“We’re pretty much almost open for that entire chunk of time so it’s not going to be much different in terms of service delivery,” Wood said.
The only other expected change to the EWRS’s operations is adjusting the hours from the current 5 pm-8 am to 6 pm-7am.
In a letter submitted to the municipality on behalf of the LRCA and B.C. Housing, Toby Seward of Seward Developments Inc said there is an “ongoing and demonstrated need in the community for the shelter to be open” throughtout the whole winter and not just in cases of extreme weather.
“This past summer, the LRCA received anecdotal reports of serveral rooming houses being closed and this has forced several people to live communally in school yards and in forested land behind Ladysmith and in the bush and close to the mill. These short-term solutions become untenable when the weather changes,” Seward wrote.
The EWRS has 10 beds, four specifically for women, and is located on the ground floor of an apartment building also owned by the province. Other features in the $249,000 renovation included a kitchen, shower and laundry facilities.
“We have people coming into the (LRCA) all the time that are looking for a place to stay,” Wood said.
“Rurally, it’s not as visible because lots of people camp out, or they’re at the beach or the Dogpatch, so it’s not as visible as it is in an urban centre because we have a lot more space to roam around. It’s much more hidden.”
Allowing the shelter to remain open all winter would also assist those in need to link up with services either here in Ladysmith, or with other non-profits in Cowichan or Nanaimo.
“The LRCA has really strong partnerships with organizations outside of Ladysmith that when you’re open every night you have a much stronger ability to build a relationship with somebody and you can say ‘hey have you heard of this organization, they offer this’,” Wood said.
The neighbourhood information meeting is on Wednesday, November 28, 3.00-5.00 pm and is being held in the basement of the building at 631 First Avenue. If you require further information please contact Toby Seward by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 250-713-6595