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Temporary shelter at Parksville’s VIP Motel is now closed

OHEARTS future is uncertain after emotional last day for residents
Helen Hiltunen, 66, and her dog Molly, will be looking for another home. (Michael Briones photo)

Friday dawned a cold day and the weather made it even chillier for the residents of the former VIP Motel, who were told to vacate the premises by noon on March 31.

There were tears, feelings of anger, frustration from some of the residents, who have made this their home since it was turned into a temporary emergency response shelter in 2021.

The City of Parksville decided to cease use of the former motel for a supportive housing facility as the property is not zoned for it and was meant for tourism use. In October 2022, the city issued a compliance agreement for BC Housing to bring the VIP Motel property into zoning compliance and gave them until March 31, 2023 to find suitable alternative housing options.

BC Housing had indicated all the residents will be provided alternative accommodation. But when the deadline arrived, some residents were upset as they were still uncertain where they are going.

Among them was Dan Hogan, who got teary-eyed and angry as he was still in limbo earlier in the day—not knowing what’s going to happen to him. But by noon, he was relieved that BC Housing has found him a cabin that will serve as home for two months.

“They kept stringing us along, stringing us along, BC Housing,” said Hogan as they been told things were good, then that they would have to leave the motel.

“I am a pensioner and I don’t feel I should be treated like garbage, when I paid my taxes when I was working,” said Hogan. “Why do I have to put up with crap like this?”

Hogan was also critical of Parksville mayor Doug O’Brien, who he felt reneged on his word of keeping the temporary shelter open.

“Why did we vote him in,” Hogan asked. “We thought he was going to be a good mayor and he turned out to be no different than the old mayor.”

BC Housing did apply for a temporary use permit to allow them to continue using the VIP Motel property as supportive housing beyond the March 31 deadline. But city council denied the application.

O’Brien said they could not prolong the situation due to concerns about the impact it will have on tourism, surrounding businesses as well as from residents in the area. A compliance agreement was reached between the City of Parksville and BC Housing providing 180 days for BC Housing and Oceanside Homelessness Ecumenical Advocacy Response Team Society (OHEARTS) to find suitable alternative housing option for residents.

“The date of March 31 was reached with BC Housing, the motel owner and the existing tenants that were there,” said O’Brien, who indicated he never went back on his election promises. “I am kind of proud of what I did do. I was the one in council that got them that six months’ extension. And BC Housing agreed and thanked us for the extension as it gives them a longer time to actually get people housing.”

O’Brien added that he met with most of the residents at the former VIP Motel, now known as Ocean Place, when the deal was reached.

“I spoke to as many people and as I could on that day,” said O’Brien. “I said ‘you do not have any danger. You are not going to be thrown out in the streets. You have six months. BC Housing will get you better housing than this. And that will happen.’ I spoke to them and they were all grateful. I said ‘that’s the right thing to do.’”

READ MORE: Residents and staff worry as deadline to close VIP Motel temporary housing looms

Darren Harbord, spokesperson for BC Housing, said the shelter spaces at Ocean Place were intended to be temporary.

“It has always been the plan for OHEARTS to support guests in finding permanent housing,” said Harbord, who added they have been assisting remaining individuals to pack their belongings and arranging transportation for guests as they transition to other housing options.

“In September 2022, there were 18 individuals temporarily sheltering on the site,” he said. “Since then, BC Housing has been directly involved in creating housing options for shelter guests at Ocean Place. As of March 30, 11 people had successfully moved into permanent housing. The remaining guests were offered several housing and/or shelter options, and it’s our expectation that they will have moved out of Ocean Place this afternoon. Moving to another home is challenging for anyone, and can be particularly difficult for seniors and for people who have experiences of trauma and homelessness.”

Residents of the motel scrambled to get their few possessions out of the motel. What made it worse for them, some said, was the cold weather shelters in Parksville Qualicum Beach were scheduled to end on March 31 as well, leaving them with virtually no other options.

Helen Hiltunen, 66, and her dog Molly, were given an option to stay at a shelter for abused women but she declined it. She too is disappointed with BC Housing and as she feels they have not done enough to assist all of them.

“They all told me at first, the first two phone calls I talked to him and he said he had nothing for me,” said Hiltunen. “He couldn’t do anything for me. Then he said there’s some shelters up there. I went to look yesterday but it’s just not for me. It’s like a dorm style. Bunk beds.”

For now she will stay with Kelly Morris, the shelter’s recovery coach and peer support worker at the facility, until she finds a better home for herself and her pet.

There are others who also preferred to stay in Parksville as they have their support groups and health services here.

Terry Roberts, board member of the non-profit OHEARTS, said he was surprised to learn that on Friday afternoon, BC Housing has terminated their agreement with them. The organization managed the operation of the temporary shelter. Now their future is uncertain as well.

“We are all in, kind of, shock right now,” said Roberts. “As of now we don’t have a facility and as of right now we don’t have a budget so we have a bleak future. The option is to keep the society going and look for another funder and another facility or close the society and start all over some other time.”

Roberts said the closure of Ocean Place is not going to help homelessness in the community.

“We are grateful for the support we got from BC Housing but at the end of the day, I feel sad and disappointed,” said Roberts. “We have nothing in the Oceanside area to support these folks.”

Michael Briones

About the Author: Michael Briones

I rejoined the PQB News team in April 2017 from the Comox Valley Echo, having previously covered sports for The NEWS in 1997.
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