A homeless shelter’s secret garden

In Cowichan, even thorny social issues have hidden beauty.

This is from the Cowichan Valley’s weekly newsletter. If you like what you’re reading, help grow this community by encouraging your friends to subscribe.

The best part of Warmland House, if you ask me, is the garden. If you enter Duncan’s emergency shelter building through the front courtyard and head straight, you’ll exit again into a fenced oasis, framed by Mount Prevost. It surprised me, when I first visited, to know that this place existed. It didn’t fit with the image in my head of a “homeless shelter,” though admittedly this was the first one I’d seen from the inside. I’m told a retired woman volunteers her time to work with shelter clients to maintain the garden. One Warmland resident has really taken to it — she propagates succulents in trays and then pots them in found objects to sell for some personal income.

This week I stopped by Warmland and took some photos in the garden as a few clients milled about, fixing bicycles, working on structure repairs. All was calm. I walked by a handmade wooden bench and was overcome with the urge to slow down, have a seat, take it in, and just breathe.

As promised in previous newsletters, today I’ve published a story about Cowichan’s current struggles with housing and homelessness, an issue you told me you care deeply about based on your responses to our community vote last year. The problem is huge and complicated, and telling a single, digestible story means making hundreds of tough choices: who to talk to, what to focus on, what to leave out. An article cannot reveal the whole picture, but it can, perhaps, show you a patch of flowers in the garden.

There is, of course, a lot that isn’t pretty about the social issues facing the Cowichan Valley. Many factors contributing to the crisis are outside local control — skyrocketing housing costs driven in part by migration from more expensive parts of the Island and the province, a supply of illicit drugs that is increasingly toxic and unpredictable. And yet the homelessness crisis and overdose crisis is deeply local, impacting individuals, families, businesses, neighbourhoods and communities.

But in my months of digging into these issues, I’ve met with individuals and organizations that are like secret gardens, beautiful but often hidden from public view. There are so many people working hard to improve this community, getting crafty to find ways to meet more need, new needs and changing needs, stretching already-thin resources to go farther.

On Tuesday morning this week I walked the downtown corridor with Will Arnold, owner of Experience Cycling, to pick up garbage, as Will does every day. The impact goes beyond the trash collected. Will has built relationships with some of the people he meets on the streets. He’s not afraid to call people out for littering, or graffitti, or theft, and tell them to make it right. He’s not afraid to look people in the eye and treat them as human beings, deserving of respect, and also deserving of accountability for the consequences of actions. This is Will’s superpower, his secret garden.

I hope you appreciate the magic around us as much as I do. If you can afford to help bring more Cowichan Valley goodness to light — now is the time to contribute. You have just three days left to support storytelling that connects us, and reveals unexpected beauty.


That’s right. Just three days left in The Discourse’s campaign to find 1,000 financial supporters of community-powered storytelling. We are well short of our goal, but I believe that with your help, we can get the rest of the way. Whether you can commit to a monthly, annual or one-time contribution, your support will help us continue to offer in-depth coverage of the issues, like housing affordability and homelessness, that you tell us are important to you. It will allow me to shed more light on the good in our community, challenge misinformation with facts and reveal stories in their full complexity. Please contribute if you can, and tell your friends why you want to see more journalism like this in Cowichan.

Let’s gather

  • June 14 to 16: The Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival makes its debut at Laketown Ranch near Lake Cowichan. Come for music, camping, jamming, workshops and a square dance.

News of the week

  • The B.C. government has asked people drawing water from the Koksilah River watershed to voluntarily restrict their usage, according to a Facebook post by One Cowichan. Managers predict critically low flows on the Koksilah River this summer, which will impact fish habitat.
  • Whippletree Junction, just south of Duncan, is now home to a new mural celebrating the Cowichan Valley’s Chinese heritage, the Cowichan Valley Citizen reports. Students and staff at Queen Margaret’s School spearheaded the project.
  • A risk assessment commissioned by the Cowichan Valley Regional District has found an extreme risk of landslides on slopes above Youbou, Meade Creek and parts of Lake Cowichan. The risk is expected to increase with climate change, which is expected to bring more extreme rainfall events in the winter time. Logging on the slopes, as has been proposed by Mosaic Forest Management (formerly Timberwest) and is opposed by community group Save our Holmes, would greatly increase the risk, the report found. [end]

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