Advertisement

Creston, B.C. considering permanent homeless shelter

A room inside 'The Den', an emergency homeless shelter in Creston, B.C., that was set up this winter. (Corey Bullock/CBC News - image credit)
A room inside 'The Den', an emergency homeless shelter in Creston, B.C., that was set up this winter. (Corey Bullock/CBC News - image credit)

The town of Creston in B.C.'s East Kootenay region is considering options for its first permanent homeless shelter as its unhoused population continues to grow.

This comes after the community, located about 500 kilometres southwest of Calgary and just north of the U.S. border, rallied to open an emergency overnight shelter, known as The Den, for its homeless population earlier this winter.

The community of about 5,583 people hasn't had an official homeless count, but Mayor Arnold DeBoon says there are at least six people living on the streets and many others living out of vehicles.

He says Creston's unhoused population has been growing over the past few years and has become more visible, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, council voted to work with B.C. Housing to determine what a shelter in Creston might look like — where it would be located, who would run it and what services it would provide.

Town staff suggested the potential shelter could be created at a building located at 1130 Canyon Street, among shops and restaurants in Creston's downtown core. DeBoon said the space is owned by the municipality, and believes it could be appropriate for a year-round shelter.

DeBoon says it meets B.C. Housing's criteria for a shelter, including proximity to hospitals and emergency services.

A newly-formed non-profit organization called The Creston Valley Den Society (CVDS) has offered to operate a permanent shelter once it's established.

"CVDS members and staff at The Den have expressed an interest in being the operators of a permanent shelter in Creston, and have an existing relationship with the unhoused community in Creston," staff wrote in a report to council.

Successful winter shelter

Last summer, Creston resident Karen Shannon noticed an unhoused person using the doorway at Trinity United Church  as a place to sleep.

In November, church representatives, including Shannon, approached council, wanting to help. At the time, council said it could provide a space, but would not fund it.

"It was getting cold and there was just no way we could look away," Shannon said, adding that by then, a few people had set up tents just outside of the church in the parking lot.

Pictured are tents outside of the Trinity United Church in Creston, B.C. on January 14, 2024.
Pictured are tents outside of the Trinity United Church in Creston, B.C. on January 14, 2024.

Some people were living in tents outside of the Trinity United Church in Creston, B.C., as pictured here in January 2024. (Corey Bullock/CBC News)

In a matter of weeks she and a group of other volunteers from the church raised $30,000 to open a temporary shelter, with further funding from B.C. Housing.

The space, which opened at the beginning of January, is equipped with beds, animal crates, showers and a kitchen.

A report from town staff says the facility has been well utilized since opening, especially during harsh weather, and often five or more individuals stay each night.

Sometimes amenities are used by individuals who don't sleep in the shelter, such as individuals sleeping in their vehicles, staff said.

WATCH | Creston opens temporary shelter:

In a statement to CBC News, B.C. Housing commended the community for its efforts.

"Over the winter months, Trinity United Church Creston's dedicated team provided warm, safe places to stay for community members who would otherwise have been left outdoors in harsh winter conditions," it said.

While the shelter has been well-used, DeBoon says, it was only open under a temporary contract, which finishes at the end of March.

The town staff report says the Trinity United Church "no longer wishes to allow tents to be set up and used as shelter on their property" and that five or more unhoused individuals will become displaced once The Den closes.

Pictured are donations in Creston's Trinity United Church in January of 2024. The community raised $30,000 to open an emergency overnight shelter this winter.
Pictured are donations in Creston's Trinity United Church in January of 2024. The community raised $30,000 to open an emergency overnight shelter this winter.

Donations are pictured at Creston's Trinity United Church in January 2024. The community raised $30,000 to open an emergency overnight shelter this winter. (Corey Bullock/CBC News)

Safety concerns

René Steenkamp owns a shop in downtown Creston, right beside the proposed location for the permanent shelter.

She said she is not opposed to Creston having a homeless shelter, but wishes there had been more consultation with businesses in the area.

"We have ladies working for us, I would be worried about their safety when they leave at night, especially during the winter when it's dark," she said.

DeBoon said the current temporary shelter, which is set up in an old fire hall's firefighter sleeping quarters, is not  a suitable location for a permanent shelter.

"It's a good location, but it may not be the best community use," he said, adding that the property may be too big for current shelter needs.

The proposed shelter will require approval from B.C. Housing, re-zoning and public consultation before it can move forward.