On July 17th the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness (CVCEH) and the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Association (DCCIA) co-hosted a meeting of 22 people representing downtown service agencies, the Courtenay Library, RCMP, Island Health, Chamber of Commerce and downtown businesses. The purpose of the meeting was to explore solutions to identified challenges in the downtown core.

Jenny Deters, President of the DCBIA noted that business owners are concerned about illegal and nuisance activity downtown and want to work collaboratively to find solutions. “We are excited to announce that two of our members are going to begin attending Coalition meetings in the fall and we will work to support DCBIA members to get more information and develop better relationships with the service agencies and their clients”.

Grant Shilling, outreach worker with Dawn to Dawn pointed out that some of the challenges being experienced downtown are symptoms of larger societal problems such as poverty, lack of housing, childhood trauma, lack of mental health and addiction prevention and treatment services. Dr. Charmaine Enns, Medical Health Officer for the North Island agreed. “We need to deal with these root causes with less focus on enforcement and policing and more focus on prevention, treatment, harm reduction and addressing the Social Determinants of Health”

RCMP Inspector Tim Walton stated “our crime stats show that very few of the ‘downtown crew’ who are engaged in criminal activity are actually homeless – they socialize outside of their home in order to keep their housing”.

The Courtenay library is focused on maintaining a safe space that serves everyone who accesses the library. They have taken a proactive approach to downtown challenges, and provide staff training on de-escalation techniques and safe space management. Colleen Nelson, Library Manager, described how their Drop-In and Connect program started with funding from United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island to serve customers who were spending many hours at the library but not engaging with library staff. Service agency outreach staff work in collaboration with the library two afternoons a week to offer assistance with housing searches, digital literacy, referrals to services and social and recreational activities. The program is “a safe space where people can just ‘be’ and not be considered a nuisance” Stasia Hasumi, CV Transition Society housing outreach worker noted.

Sarah Sullivan, manager of the Courtenay branch of AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) said that their office has been in the downtown Courtenay core for over 25 years operating a needle exchange among many other services such as education, prevention, outreach and mental health services for those infected and affected by HIV and hepatitis C. In response to the number of deaths due to drug overdoses throughout BC (a provincial emergency) an Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) was opened at AVI in March and operates during their regular business hours. To date the OPS has had 132 visits and has prevented 5 deaths. “We are happy to answer any questions and offer education and support to community organizations and businesses. We accept people where they are and believe they deserve respect and the chance to achieve health.”

The meeting was a very productive and collaborative conversation that resulted in an action plan involving local service agencies, businesses and all levels of government, as well as a commitment from everyone at the table to work together, and not just ‘talk to the talk’ but to take some action. This was a positive first step to continued communication, collaboration and action to ensure a more vibrant downtown core for all.

Downtown Business Improvement Association and the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness