Nick Chowdhury, co-chair, Urban Indigenous Housing and Wellness Commission, Coun. Ron Kerr, City of Campbell River, and Michele Babchuk, North Island MLA were on hand for a tour of newly-completed Q'waxsem Place supportive housing facility on Dogwood Street in Campbell River Feb. 5, 2021. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror

300-plus Island students give new supportive housing complex a warm welcome

Carihi students and staff welcome Q’waxsem Place residents to the neigbourhood

Campbell River Grade 12 student Trent Perras didn’t understand all the negativity surrounding the decision to build a supportive housing facility two blocks from Carihi Secondary where he goes to school.

He also thought it couldn’t be making the potential residents of the building feel like they were going to be welcome in their new home.

So he decided to do something about that.

“I’d heard that there were some people, including some parents, that had a problem with this building being built near schools,” Perras said. “So I wanted to show my support for it.”

But he didn’t want it to just be his support he was showing. He wanted to show the school itself supported it. He made a few inquiries as to how he could show the school’s support for the facility to the people who live there, and settled on a poster signed by everyone who agreed with him to put up in the entranceway.

“I just made a quick little presentation about why I find it important, and it turned out that everybody else was on board, too. I don’t know exactly how many names I got, but 300-400, anyway,” he said.

Kristi Schwanicke, program manager with the Vancouver Island Mental Health Society, which oversees the operations of the facility called Q’waxsem Place, said she was touched by the gesture.

“You taking the time to welcome our residents to the neighbourhood is just an incredible gift,” Schwanicke told him before they got to the poster’s installation. “I’m really humbled by it. It’s hard to move into a new neighbourhood at the best of times, and we’re doing it in a pandemic and with residents that haven’t always been a part of this neighbourhood.”

“Some of the people who live here have been homeless for 14 or 15 years,” Schwanicke continued. “They haven’t felt connected to any neighbourhood, but now they have the chance to have a place to call home and to have it expressed like this that they are welcome here and they do belong here is really heartwarming.”

Chelsea Andrews with the City of Campbell River said initiatives like Perras’ also send a message to City Hall.

“It’s really important for people in the community to make gestures like these,” Andrews said. “There was some concern and fear around it, and for you to come forward and say, ‘You know what? 300 people from my school say we’re happy to have them here,’ that goes back to the decision makers, to council, and shows them they made the right decision and helps them make similar decisions going forward.”

Perras says that after graduation, he’s hoping to continue his education and become a teacher, like his mom. But whatever he goes off to do, he’s not going to forget what’s important.

“I think a lot of people need to let go of preconceptions,” he said. “You don’t know what anyone else is going through or who they are based on their appearance, so maybe don’t be so quick to judge.”

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Grade 12 student Trent Perras (left) and Kristi Schwanicke, program manager with Vancouver Island Mental Health Society, put up Perras' poster welcoming the residents of Q'uaxsem Place to the community from the students and staff of Carihi. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror