Shelter stance altered


Emergency facility to remain open through March 2023


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BC Housing has confirmed that Salt Spring’s emergency shelter will not close later this year as previously announced. In April the housing agency stated it would no longer fund the shelter, operated by Salt Spring Island Community Services (SSICS),as soon as a 28-unit supportive housing building on Drake Road was finished. The shelter will now remain open and funded until the end of the fiscal year on March31, 2023.

When asked by the Driftwood at the May 20 ASK Salt Spring meeting, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands Adam Olsen said he had been informed by email that BC Housing funding would remain in place until that date.

“The details of that I think we are collectively still working through,” he said, indicating that meetings are ongoing. Salt Spring Capital Regional District (CRD) director Gary Holman confirmed he had also seen this information, and was heartened by BC Housing statements about plans to assess the possible need for continued shelter funding.

Senior communications specialist with BC Housing Laura McLeod stated via email that the information shared by Olsen and Holman is correct. This includes the continued funding until the end of the fiscal year, as well as the agency being open to the possibility of extending financial support.

Keeping the shelter open over the winter months should demonstrate that need, Holman said.

“The good news about the shelter staying open, with the supported housing in place, is that I’m pretty confident it’s going to demonstrate that shelter will still likely be fully utilized and I suspect oversubscribed,” he said. “That, more than anything else, more than homeless counts or our advocacy, is going to demonstrate to BC Housing the clear need for that facility.”

Rob Grant, executive director of SSICS, said between now and March 31 what happens next with the shelter should become clear. Grant said he hopes BC Housing will agree with his stance, which is to close the shelter when the time is right and when it has been demonstrated there is no need for it. Grant previously told the Driftwood that BC Housing’s construction of a 28-unit supportive housing development at 161Drake Rd. does not change the need for an emergency shelter.

The number of people on Salt Spring who are unhoused has been rising. A 2021 point-in-time count found 146 unhoused people, of whom 109 were unsheltered and the remaining 37were sheltered in some form of temporary or unsuitable housing situation.

Grant said Community Services tracks stays at the shelter and groups them into planned and unplanned categories. He said unplanned stays are significant and could include people released from the hospital or police custody as well as those who cannot access their houseboats or other shelter due to bad weather, for example.

While a few “bridge-to-housing” beds are being considered for Drake Road, these are not the same as shelter spaces. People need to apply in advance, and are given a bed through the “coordinated access and assessment” process where BC Housing, the CRD and Island Health work together to match clients with housing and supports.

According to BC Housing’s community relations team, the staffing model for Drake Road has not yet been determined, but could include 24/7 staffing if needed.

Community Services would operate both supportive housing at Drake Road and the shelter on Fulford-Ganges Road. Grant said staffing is already a very real challenge, with five to six positions currently open across the organization and additional casual staff sought for the shelter. Right now, he said, these vacancies are manageable as their duties get spread across SSICS’110 staff members. Yet should the supportive housing building become a 24-hour-a-day operation, seven days a week, it would require around five to six more employees.

Grant said the organization is thinking about staff housing strategies, as some of their recent vacancies are due to people losing their housing on the island.

“We’ve got staffing shortages just like everyone. That’s a challenge. . . Keeping [the shelter] going, I think we’re happy about that. I think the shelter is functioning well and doing what it’s supposed to do,” Grant said.

If the shelter is shown to be needed this winter, Holman said there needs to be a gathering of politicians and organizations involved to advocate to BC Housing, similar to what happened when the Seabreeze Inne was set to change hands last winter. BC Housing deciding to fast-track the Drake Road development, with the aim of having it ready by this summer, was one outcome of the Seabreeze Inne being sold. What was a good news story for the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation, who bought the motel in order to turn it into sorely needed hospital workforce housing, also precipitated a crisis for the 18 or so residents of the Seabreeze.

Many of the Seabreeze residents will find a home at Drake Road, BC Housing has stated, as will some people now staying at the shelter. McLeod noted a community information session will be setup closer to the Drake Road development’s opening date. Questions and feedback can be sent to