On Friday afternoon, a group of islanders migrated to from the Snug Café to the Caring Circle cottage on Cardena Road to discuss ways to provide immediate help to individuals on Bowen Island who find themselves without a safe, warm and dry place to spend the night.
Thursday evening, after a day of bitter cold and rain verging on snow, the power went out across Bowen Island. Islander Jen McIntyre wrote and posted the story of her day on the Bowen Island Everything Else Facebook Page. Her story told of lucking-out by finding a hard-working labourer on short notice on a miserable day, helping him out by bringing him home to warm up and get clean and dry, and then ended in despair, with the man leaving, with no place where he would be able to spend the night.
“Shouldn't anyone who really wants to be here, be afforded a chance at a locally good-paying job, a warm bed and a place to bathe and cook?” Asked McIntyre.
“He must be trying to find a ride to ‘somewhere,’ right now, and the wind is howling.”
This kicked off a long conversation about homelessness on Bowen, and by the next day, plans for an afternoon meeting to take action were in place.
A group of ten concerned Bowen Islanders plus RCMP Cpl. Paulo Arreaga, Colleen O’Neil from Caring Circle, Councilor Gary Ander and the Municipality’s Emergency Services Co-Ordinator, Jen McGowan, met at Caring Circle.
McGowan took the lead on the meeting by saying that BC Housing Funds emergency shelters, but an Emergency Housing Plan is required to outline a budget, staff and location for the shelter. She said that while a municipality can submit these plans, a non-profit or community group is required to run the shelter.
Cpl. Arreaga said that according to the number of cases RCMP have dealt with there are seven people they consider homeless on Bowen Island. Housing advocate Michael Chapman said that eleven people contacted him to state their housing needs as inadequate. Local artist Marc Bauer said he was shocked to learn that homelessness even exists on Bowen Island.
Housing advocate Michael Chapman says eleven people have contacted him saying they have inadequate and unstable housing. He asked to know more about who they were, whether they were new people who gravitated to the island or people who had been displaced.
“I can tell you there are people who have been homeless on this island for several years,” said Chapman. “Yes, many of these people have problems with mental health and addiction, but shouldn’t we be finding ways to get them the help they need?”
While people were keen to discuss longer-term solutions to the problem, McGowan kept the group focused on short-term needs and how to set up an emergency shelter so that no one on Bowen finds him or herself stuck in a car, boat or worse during this current cold-spell.
In most communities, churches are often the obvious answer to this need, and members of the group had already reached out the Shelagh MacKinnon at the Little Red Church and to Cates Hill Chapel.
Other members of the group argued that those locations were too far for people hauling their lives around in a backpack, without transportation, especially considering some my have challenges with physical mobility.
Councillor Gary Ander stepped out to take a phone call, and when he returned he offered an alternative that ended the debate immediately: the upstairs portion of the library is free, and available for use.
All members of the group agreed that this was an ideal location but that a longer-term solution was necessary.
“Sometimes this kind of thing is exactly what you need to start a ripple affect,” said Arreaga.
Chapman volunteered to spend the night working the new shelter. He and other volunteers met later in the afternoon to get the room cleaned and organized. The shelter will be open to anyone who needs it tonight and tomorrow night between 6pm and 8am.