A house owned by Central Community Church in Harrison could become an extreme weather shelter, if a zoning amendment application moves forward. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

EDITORIAL: Extreme weather shelter not a harbinger of doom

Editor Grace Kennedy explains what an extreme weather shelter is, and why Harrison should relax

Let’s get one thing clear: an extreme weather shelter is not the same as a homeless shelter.

It’s not the same as supportive housing, or transition housing, or a halfway house. It’s not a recovery centre for addicts, or a long-term place where those who are homeless can get on their feet.

An extreme weather shelter is simply a building where, when it’s really cold, or really hot, or really rainy, people who might not otherwise have a place to stay can get out of the elements.

Often these places are only open in the winter, and only accept people in for shelter during official notices of extreme weather events.

So now that we’re all educated on what an extreme weather shelter actually is, let’s look at what’s being considered in Harrison.

On Wednesday, Oct. 2, the Agassiz Harrison Observer published a story saying that a group in Harrison was considering the possibility of having an extreme weather shelter in a house owned by Central Community Church. It’s only a possibility, because in order to have a service like this, there needs to be a zoning amendment to allow for it.

RELATED: Extreme weather shelter possible in Harrison

You can’t just create an extreme weather shelter in Harrison. That’s not how it works.

So, the village decided to help the organization with the funds needed to submit an application for the zoning amendment. When that application comes in, then there will be more details on what the extreme weather shelter could potentially look like.

Council will get an opportunity to impose its own restrictions on what will be allowed, or not allowed, as part of an extreme weather shelter. (They could, for example, say that it needs to have staff on site at all times, or that there can be no more than five people staying in the shelter at one time.) Heck, council could even decide that they don’t want an extreme weather shelter in the village, and kibosh the whole thing.

All this will be decided when an application comes forward to council — not before.

So in the meantime, all those readers who have commented saying “No,” “That would be a very bad idea,” and “Who’s bright idea was this?” should take a deep breath. And those who say that shelters should be created in places where there are more services — you’re right. Except, all those places already have extreme weather shelters.

RELATED: More people in Chilliwack coming in to shelters to get out of the cold

Mission has one. Hope has one. Chilliwack has four. Where there isn’t one is in the nearly 100 kilometres between downtown Mission and Hope.

(As for choosing Harrison over Agassiz, please feel free to offer up a property that could be used as an extreme weather shelter in Agassiz. I’m sure the group would be happy to take you up on it.)

Agassiz and Harrison aren’t terribly easy to get to, especially for marginalized people who need to walk or take transit. That means the community likely wouldn’t see an influx of newcomers looking to hunker down in a new shelter.

They also aren’t terribly easy to get out of. So when the cold weather hits, an extreme weather shelter in the community would give locals a place to stay.

It would give people who are chronically homeless a warm bed. It would also give your neighbour, who might be on the edge of losing their home, a place to go if they found themselves temporarily without shelter on a chilly night.

Those of us who know we will be able to cozy up in our warm beds this winter should be thankful. And we should extend our compassion to those who do not have that certainty.

-Grace Kennedy, editor


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