Proposed Revelstoke winter shelter: the proponents and their plans

Several key organizations will need to work together for the proposed shelter to successfully get off the ground.

The basement of the Revelstoke United Church is the proposed location for a temporary winter shelter. Rev. David Cooke said the downtown location means RCMP already patrol the area regularly in the evenings, pointing out that homeless populations are often more vulnerable to becoming victims of violence than the general public. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer.

News of a proposed temporary winter shelter in downtown Revelstoke has garnered  a considerable amount of public attention over the past week. With several organizations involved in the planning for the shelter, the Mountaineer decided to take a look at who the key players are, along with their respective roles.

Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society

The Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society is the central player when it comes to the proposed temporary winter shelter. Should all of the requirements be met for the winter shelter to begin operation, the RWSS would hold the contract with BC Housing to deliver the winter shelter program including overseeing all of the financial and human resource aspect, as well as hiring and training staff and volunteers to work at the shelter.

The RWSS offered to take on the proposed program contract after executive director Lynn Loeppky approached the shelter society’s board of directors. Loeppky also sits on a subcommittee of the city’s Social Development Committee’s poverty reduction working group, where discussions on the need for a winter shelter in Revelstoke have been ongoing for some time. Prior to this a few other non-profit organizations were approached to potentially oversee operations of a winter shelter, but without success. Loeppky said the temporary winter shelter is a good fit for the RWSS as they are already familiar with the ins and outs of operating a shelter.

In addition to holding the contract and overseeing operations, the RWSS would also provide support to clients attending the temporary winter shelter who are identified as women and children fleeing abuse.

BC Housing

Simply put, BC Housing holds the purse strings. They’ll provide the finances needed to run the proposed program should the RWSS successfully meet all the requirements set out by the city to transform the basement of the United Church into a space for the shelter. A draft proposal prepared by the RWSS also notes BC Housing would provide funds for any necessary capital upgrades to the church.

In an email to the Mountaineer, a BC Housing spokesperson said they have not yet received a request for funding for the temporary winter shelter. Loeppky explained this is because BC Housing has asked the RWSS to procure all of the necessary approvals from the city before submitting a proposal.

“It’s a bit of a Catch-22. They want council to approve the site prior to the funding request,” said Loeppky. “Currently RWSS has agreed to hold the contract if the funding is approved from BC Housing, but that can’t be done until council approves.”

Revelstoke United Church

On paper, the church’s role is quite simple: provide the necessary space for the temporary winter shelter. According to the draft proposal this would be done through a lease agreement with BC Housing. For Rev. David Cooke though, the church’s involvement goes far beyond just providing a space for the shelter. Speaking from a pastoral perspective, Cooke said the church has a religious mandate to care for the poor.

“As a church we have an obligation to help people. This is what we are known for,” said Cooke.

With the United Church now identified as the location of the proposed shelter, it’s unsurprising that Cooke has spent the past week speaking to members of the public, some in support and others unsupportive. Cooke said while he understands concerns surrounding issues of liability, he questions how a shelter located in downtown Revelstoke is any more dangerous than a bar.

“Data shows it doesn’t increase violence in the area,” said Cooke. “The reality is from having worked with this population here in Revelstoke and in other places, they are the ones who are more vulnerable to violence.”

Cooke said the shelter would include a security system with a direct line to the RCMP, and noted that the church’s downtown location means police already regularly patrol the area.

City of Revelstoke

Currently, the city holds the keys when it comes to whether the proposed shelter will move forward. Revelstoke city council recently gave approval for the RWSS and BC Housing to begin a neighbourhood consultation, but no timeline has been officially given. The city also needs to provide approval of a temporary use permit for the shelter. That could take some time, however, given that council approved a recommendation from staff to update the current bylaw in order to meet the provincial requirements for temporary use permits.

There are also several other city departments involved in the project, including the department of community economic development. It’s the department of economic development which oversees the social development committee that has, in many ways, led the charge in getting a shelter up and running in Revelstoke. This has brought about concerns surrounding the city’s role around accountability should problems arise with the proposed shelter. In discussion with city council at their regular meeting on Tuesday, August 27, director of development services Marianne Wade said a temporary use permit has conditions that go with it. If those conditions aren’t met the permit can be revoked, although doing so would require council’s approval.

Council members also expressed concerns over the safety of both members of the public at large, as well as those who might make use of the proposed shelter. Wade said if a violation is directly related to the conditions of the temporary use permit, then it could be dealt with through development services and, if necessary, city council. However, violations that are unrelated to aspects specific to the temporary use permit (e.g. cases of persons causing harm to themselves or others, or property damage), would be resolved either by the RCMP or the fire department, depending on the nature of the offence.

“Behaviour that is regulated under other bylaws and jurisdictions is different than land use. Land use doesn’t regulate behaviour,” said Wade.

What’s next?

As mentioned, there are a number of steps that need to happen before a temporary winter shelter can begin operating in Revelstoke. Currently, proponents of the shelter face two major hurdles: getting the necessary approvals from the city and conducting a neighbourhood consultation with business owners and residents close to the proposed shelter. Both the approvals and the consultation are likely to take some time, meaning there could be a time-crunch when it comes to meeting any requirements set out by BC Housing for funding approval, as well as completing necessary upgrades to the church basement before a shelter is opened.

Check back with the Mountaineer for more stories on the proposed shelter, including details on how the proposed temporary winter shelter differs from a typical homeless shelter, and how proponents say issues of community safety will be addressed.