The homeless shelter at 1660 Columbia Ave. in Castlegar is closing for good as of March 31, when the shelter wrapped up its seasonal operations.
The Way Out Shelter was moved to the site of the former Flamingo Hotel in March 2021. The shelter was originally housed in the Castlegar and District Community Services Society’s (CDCSS) main building in downtown Castlegar for about four months before the organization purchased the hotel and relocated the shelter.
The shelter was originally designated as a winter shelter, but additional provincial funding related to COVID-19 saw the shelter switch to year-round operations in 2021.
In a joint letter addressed to the community, BC Housing and CDCSS state that the shelter site at the former hotel was always considered a “temporary winter shelter as that building and location were not considered suitable for long-term use.”
The shelter has been plagued with public relations issues since it opened. Castlegar residents, businesses and city councillors have all expressed concerns about the location of the shelter.
While the shelter was still in its infancy at the downtown location, two serious incidents caused community concern. A person died of an overdose in January 2021 and a shelter resident stabbed two teenagers at a nearby home in February 2021.
When city council renewed the shelter’s temporary use permit in July 2022, it did so with reservations and a list of conditions including improving communications, working with neighbours and safety upgrades. At the time, city staff reported that there was a clear correlation between the shelter and neighbourhood complaints such as vandalism and human waste left at nearby properties.
In recent months, CDCSS and the shelter itself have undergone some major changes to both the board and staff. CDCSS’s executive director and the shelter’s director have been replaced and a number of new board members have joined the organization.
“CDCSS and BC Housing do not take this decision lightly and we recognize that this will have an impact on the community, and on those who are experiencing homelessness,” states the letter. “We hope to be able to re-open a winter shelter, if needed, and to continue to work with the City of Castlegar to find more permanent solutions for safe, affordable and quality housing.”
CDCSS will continue to own and manage the Columbia Avenue property, which has other long-term tenants, and the CDCSS board will be conducting a review of all of its owned assets to determine next steps and long-term operational strategies.
The letter lays out what will happen in the near future. CDCSS will work with shelter guests to provide resources and ways to connect with services from other community service partners, such as community integration specialists from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and Interior Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use team.
CDCSS is looking to BC Housing, community service partners, local businesses, and community members to help fund street outreach services in the short-term.
The letter says CDCSS is also working with community service partners to create a service resource centre or hub where those living without homes could more easily access a variety of services in a “one-stop shop” approach.
“The location has yet to be determined and we will update the community as soon as information is available.”
Upon the closure of the shelter, the building will be secured and any visitors will be redirected.
The local REDUN group (peer-led advocacy group) will continue to provide community clean-up services in collaboration with the City of Castlegar.
In the letter, BC Housing says it will “continue to work with CDCSS, the City of Castlegar and other community partners on temporary and permanent housing solutions for people who are experiencing homelessness in the community and the region. We will update the community once more information is available to share.”