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Still no winter shelter as record-breaking cold set to strike Comox Valley

Emergency Warming Centres available, but the commnity still without a proper shelter with beds
The Comox Valley is bracing for severe weather on Thursday night (Jan. 11), with temperatures expected to plummet to -12 C. Meanwhile, the region is still waiting to see the opening of an emergency weather shelter for its unhoused population. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

The Comox Valley got smacked with severe weather overnight Thursday (Jan. 11), with temperatures that plummeted to -10C and a wind chill reaching -17 C.

Despite the presence of a warming centre that provides warmth and activates when temperatures fall below -4 C or in the event of significant snowfall, the more than 200 unhoused individuals in the community still lack a proper shelter with beds. This trend shows no signs of being resolved soon, as there is currently no viable option for a shelter on the table.

RELATED: Comox Valley faces severe shortage of shelter options for upcoming winter

A written statement by BC Housing provided to the Record reads: “The Comox Valley does not have an Emergency Weather Response shelter scheduled to open this winter season.”

The same statement further mentions that funding is still available if the region successfully identifies suitable sites or secures shelter providers.

Many called but none chosen

Angela Fletcher, the co-ordinator for the Coalition to End Homelessness, who led this year’s task force to find a temporary winter shelter, noted that this year’s search proved more challenging than expected.

“We have been looking collectively, since October of last year, trying to identify a location that would be a large enough and suitable extreme weather shelter,” said Fletcher. “I feel like we’ve turned over every single stone that we can, but we haven’t been able to come up with a location.”

Heavily relying on citizens’ input, and despite having a “long list of locations,” Fletcher highlighted the existence of numerous roadblocks preventing these places from becoming shelters.

Constraints such as compliance with fire codes, availability of bathrooms, and sufficient size to accommodate a considerable number of people are some of the many criteria that a place must meet.

RELATED: Comox Valley leaders putting out an urgent call for extreme weather space

By the same token, Fletcher also emphasized that the funding provided by BC Housing is often limited and doesn’t cover all necessary renovation fees required for these locations to meet the aforementioned requirements.

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells, who works in tandem with Fletcher, told the Record that the lack of opportunity, in comparison with prior years, makes this search all the more trying.

“Normally a faith-based group would step forward or help facilitate things,” said Wells. “The challenge that we’ve had was finding a location that’s suitable just has been very difficult this year. We haven’t had people stepping up in organizations that have the space.”

When asked why the Valley’s municipal governments and local actors have been dependent on public involvement, Wells responded that this is indicative of the provincial government’s flawed system when it comes to sheltering.

“I’ve spoken with our MLA Ronna-Rea Leonard that our province really needs to modernize how the sheltering process unfolds,” said Wells. “(These systems) have been running on the backs of volunteers and communities when it’s truly the province’s mandate to be looking after these things.”

“People need a place to stay when it’s -4 C, (but) they also need a place when it’s 0 C or over 10 C.”

The Record reached out to Ronna-Rea Leonard, MLA for Courtenay-Comox, for comments on the ongoing sheltering crisis.

“Just this morning I had a conversation with the minister’s office about the kinds of solutions that are being looked at now (in) dealing with this housing crisis,” said Leonard. “In the meantime, we need the community to find the location that will provide the shelter to people (so they) aren’t dying of the cold.”

Leonard expressed her frustration with the current state of things and the lack of solutions.

“It’s still being worked on and things are progressing, but it is all about the accountability for BC housing to do things in a fair way,” said Leonard. “It slows the process down but it’s getting there. (Still) it doesn’t solve the problem for tonight.”


Wells and Fletcher remind the public that the call for suitable shelter locations is still ongoing. To propose a potential site, reach out to Angela Fletcher of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness at or 250-218-3752.

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