No objections were raised at the District of Port Hardy’s public hearing to the rezone of the old Gazette building as an emergency shelter.
Only a handful of people attended the hearing, which was held on Feb. 27 in the district’s council chambers.
The Salvation Army purchased the building, which is located at 7305 Market Street, so their operations could be relocated there, but before that happened, bylaw 1075-2018 needed to be amended by adding the definition of emergency shelter to the zoning regulations.
The district held the public hearing to seek public input on the zoning changes. However, they received no written submissions and no statements were given at the hearing, which lasted less than 15 minutes.
In absence of comments from other community members, Michael Winter, the Community Ministries Supervisor for the Salvation Army’s Lighthouse Resource Centre, gave a statement about the history of shelters in Port Hardy and what the Salvation Army intends to do with the new space.
“In 2009, three people died in cells — From that, there was an impetuous to have something called the Mount Waddington Addiction Recovery Services Framework, and within that framework they identified the need for a safe place for intoxicated individuals,” explained Winter.
He said as part of the community response, the Salvation Army went out to find shelter in the township for intoxication.
However, they were only able to secure funding through BC Housing and had to operate as an extreme weather response, which meant they could only operate when weather permitted.
He said the shelter grew to 12 beds “Every day from the months of November to March, and within that framework, the Mount Waddington Health Network gave some LPN support so we could give people clinical care,” said Winter.
Now because of a recent government initiative called the 500 Spaces Initiative, they receive funding from Island Health to operate a year-round program called the Sobering Assessment Overnight Shelter Program.
It runs nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. and offers six to 12 spaces throughout the year, which include beds, showers, laundry, dinner, breakfast, and snacks.
“We have a harm reduction philosophy that’s trauma-informed and client centred,” said Winter, adding, “It’s tied into the mental health services and there is also a supervisor who helps people get clinical care and do casework.”
Winter said since the program began operating 15 months ago, the occupancy levels have been consistently high.
“In January of 2018, it was 125.8 per cent — That’s because they go in, they get sober, and they leave and another person comes in,” said Winter. “Over the last 15 months there was 100 per cent occupancy in the shelter. I don’t have statistics for turnaways but many people are being turned away.”
Winter said he is seeing the stability of the program is giving people the opportunity to transition into healthy living.
He finished his statement by providing statistics given to him by RCMP Staff Sgt. Wes Olsen of the prisoner counts from 2012 to 2017, which showed that in 2012 the prisoner count was 1009, and by 2017 it had dropped to 598.
“The Salvation Army purchased this building on good faith — the government is actually pushing for longer hours and more bed spaces because of the situation that is going on, and we want to support that and this building would be an opportunity to do so,” said Winter.
Bylaw 1075-2018 passed second and third reading at the district’s regular council meeting that immediately followed the public hearing.