After months of waiting, the Parksville Qualicum Beach area has an eight-bed, cold-weather shelter solution.
Starting on Thursday, Dec. 19, seven churches in the area will host shelter spaces on rotating nights.
That will happen for the rest of December and the entirety of January and February. In March, the shelter services will be provided at the same location — the Mount Arrowsmith Salvation Army Church.
A new, non-profit society called the Oceanside Homelessness Ecumenical Advocacy Response Team Society (OHEART) will be responsible for operating the shelter.
Society of Organized Services is the contract holder with BC Housing, who will in turn pay OHEART to provide and operate the shelter.
Heidi Hartman, regional director for BC Housing for the Vancouver Island region, said it took until now for a solution to be found because of the amount of planning required.
“I think because it was creative and it took a lot of co-ordination as you can appreciate, with that many churches coming together,” she said.
“You know, usually what we see is it’s one church that can provide seven nights a week, but because of the programming and the different other great work that each of the churches done is they were only able to offer one night a week so it took some time to co-ordinate all of that work.”
Hartman said they’re trying to make it as convenient as possible for people to use the shelters — people will be able to meet at a central location and then get transported to where the shelter will be that night.
“We want to make this as easy as possible to get people out of the cold, so there will be transportation,” she said. “There will be a central area where they will be picked up on a daily basis at 5 o’clock, intake will happen then. And they will be transported to the appropriate shelter, which would open 6 p.m. to 7:15 a.m.”
The journey to a cold-weather shelter started in May 2019, when the City of Parksville secured full control over the use of what is now Orca Place by purchasing it for $700,000 and repaying a $492,400 grant-in-aid to the Regional District of Nanaimo. With the purchase, the housing facility no longer required an eight-bed, cold-weather shelter, which was a requirement of the RDN.
Since then, BC Housing and local groups have been looking for alternative solutions.
Hartman said cold-weather shelters are based on partnerships and that each model is individual to the municipality, city or town.
“We have some really amazing partnerships with different cities and municipalities and different partners, whether it’s nonprofits or businesses coming forward with solutions,” she said. “But our intent is just to support communities that need these temporary shelter spaces.”
Hartman said having the shelter in the area is necessary and important — there’s a demand and a need for one in Parksville Qualicum Beach.
“We appreciate the dedicated group that really brought this opportunity forward,” she said. “Because while the 52 units of housing did meet the need, there continue to be individuals that are seen on the streets that need to come out of the weather and get a warm meal and a bed and a warm place to sleep.”
The community churches who will be sharing shelter duties are:
* Arbutus Grove Reformed Church
* Knox United Church
* Oceanside Community Church
* Catholic Church of The Ascension
* Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church
* Christian Fellowship Centre Church
* Anglican Church of St. Anne/St. Edmund