More than 15 per cent of the Castlegar Fire Department’s calls during 2022 were made to the area in and around The Way Out Shelter at 1660 Columbia Avenue.
According to a report by Fire Chief Sam Lattanzio, CFD responded to 85 calls for service last year to the shelter or to calls involving the unhoused population within the city.
CFD responded to 33 fires including abandoned campfires, landscape fires and vehicle fires. They were also called to 13 fire alarm activations at the shelter itself.
There were 21 overdose calls. Many of these calls occurred in the vicinity surrounding the shelter as the shelter does not allow drug use on site.
There were also 12 “man down” calls and six other calls.
As of the end of February, CFD had been called out to the shelter 12 times so far in 2023, accounting for 11 per cent of the department’s call volume. Those calls included seven overdoses and four fires, including a structure fire.
In Jan. 2021, when the shelter was located at the CDCSS main building downtown, a person died on site from “mixed illicit drug toxicity,” according to the BC Coroners Service, who has since ruled the death as accidental.
In July 2022, city council granted Castlegar and District Community Services (CDCSS) a temporary use permit to continue to run the 13 bed shelter, but laid out several conditions based on community grievances and safety issues including poor communication from the shelter and shelter residents and others accessing services at the site causing disruptions and damages at nearby businesses and residential areas.
Since that time, the Castlegar Integrated Services Collaborative (CISC) has been working on solutions to some of the issues facing those in need of utilizing shelter services and the residents and businesses in the vicinity of the shelter.
The CISC provides an opportunity for organizations, businesses, institutions, agencies, elected officials, and local individuals who have an interest in supporting Castlegar’s vulnerable populations to connect with one another and to work together.
The shelter itself and CDCSS have seen a change in management in recent weeks. The shelter is scheduled to close for the season at the end of March.