City of Castlegar forced to close temporary homeless shelter

The Out of the Cold temporary warming shelter will close on Apr. 30. (Photo/ Kate Brown, Vista Radio)

The Out of the Cold shelter and outreach services located at 1660 Columbia Ave will close on Apr. 30.

BC Housing has discontinued its funding of temporary winter shelters, and the City of Castlegar is urging them to reconsider.

The temporary shelter, which just moved to its new location on Columbia Ave in 2023, provides refuge for people with nowhere to go during winter cold snaps and offers programs that supply harm reduction equipment, meals, clothing, tents, and other necessities.

The city said in a media release it’s “extremely disappointed and concerned” with BC Housing’s decision to cut funding for temporary shelter. The city say’s its written a letter to Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon to reconsider and allow the space to remain operational until a permanent shelter and outreach services are in place.

Shelter manager Deb McIntosh said that the decision is short-sighted, considering the ongoing housing and toxic drug crisis.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the short-sightedness of BC Housing shutting down winter shelters when they know that there’s a housing crisis, they know that there’s an opioid crisis. It shouldn’t be a big shocker that people are upset.”

McIntosh fears that closure will have a ripple of negative effects on the city, including an increase in crime, adding that the province should have had plenty of time to plan and put forward money in its budget to accommodate such programs.

“They’ve had plenty of time to plan and budget for this. People are going to be on the street, all the hard work that we have done here to turn this place around and to get rid of the stigma of our unhoused population will be back in full force, and unfortunately, we also have people out there that are a little bit on the vigilante side that want to do some harm as well.”

Two people who utilize the shelter’s outreach services have died in the last two weeks due to toxic drugs, according to McIntosh, who says ensuring more supports are available to those with mental health and addiction should be a top priority.

“The bell should be going off after eight years of the opioid crisis. I don’t know what they’re thinking but they better get something out of their bottoms because this isn’t working and until it affects maybe some real high-up dignitary type people, they won’t listen because that’s usually what it takes. It’s a personal experience to change your mind on what it is like out there.”

She wants the province to do whatever is necessary to continue funding these programs and shelters, including leaning on the federal government if lack of funds is the issue.

McIntosh urges community members to join her and the city in advocating for the temporary shelter and for a permanent solution in the community.

“Please send letters, make phone calls to BC Housing and ask them to support winter shelters throughout the year until permanent shelters can be built because these are our moms, dads, brothers, sisters, and our family and they are worth something.”

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