Stepping up when the weather gets cold

Extreme weather shelter a start, but Manna Ministry says more needs to be done for area homeless

Robin Campbell

Robin Campbell

With black ice on the roads and the snowfall line getting lower on the mountains its a sure sign that winter is well on its way. The 2011 winter is predicted to be the coldest in 20 years and that is disconcerting for volunteers in the community who reach out to homeless people.

Robin Campbell at Manna Ministry, an organization within the Parksville Fellowship Baptist Church that helps provide food and clothing to the local homeless, said more needs to be done to help the people in Oceanside who have no shelter. He said the extreme weather response shelter for the Oceanside region isn’t enough.

Temperatures below two degrees celsius, snow accumulation, and rainfall makes it difficult or impossible for homeless people to remain dry. This is classed as extreme weather and results in the emergency response shelter at the Salvation Army Church being opened for the night.

Campbell said that is well and good but a person feels the cold well before the mercury drops to minus two celsius and much quicker when they are wet.

“Go out at 10:30 at night with all your clothes on and try to go to sleep. It is cold at night and that is a health risk.”

Campbell was in Mill Bay last week to scoop up some tents and sleeping bags. He said he gave out several sleeping bags and tents but wishes more could be done to keep the community’s homeless people safe and warm.

The Manna Ministry van which is parked on Hirst Ave near the Rod and Gun every Saturday from 10:30 to 1 p.m. was a welcome sight for many of the community’s less fortunate people on Nov. 5 which was a chilly day.

Campbell along with Dawn Major not only handed out tents and tarps, they also provided people with food, warm clothing and footwear.

“It is a myth that these people are alcoholics. It is only about one in four that have issues and use alcohol to numb the pain. Some of them have been abused, some have lost their jobs and some have jobs but it is not enough to support their families,” said Campbell.

He stated they are good people who are down on their luck and we shouldn’t be afraid of them.

Campbell provided assistance to many homeless people on the weekend including a young family he said that has absolutely nothing but a mattress on the floor.

Debbie Tardiff, communications officer for the City of Parksville, said the extreme weather response shelter is funded by BC Housing and can only operate under the protocol of the BC Government and while the evenings are starting to get cold, they can’t open the doors to the shelter until extreme weather conditions exist.

Funding for the shelter is available from Nov. 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012 and it will be open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. but only on nights of inclement and extreme weather. Tardiff said it is her job to check to weather forecast every day and make the decision about opening the shelter, but she has to follow the protocol set out by the province.

“In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to turn them out at 8 a.m.,” she said, adding if the shelter is well used this year they will have to look at something more permanent.

She said the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness was formed in May 2010 by the City of Parksville with representation from many organizations and service providers here, and she said for now the emergency shelter is better than nothing.