With Environment Canada issuing a storm warning for east Vancouver Island, Rev. Christine Muise is very worried about the safety for those left in the cold.
As a founding member of OHEART, a group of nine Parksville Qualicum Beach area churches that advocate for shelters, Muise said there are still no warm, dry and safe spaces for people experiencing homelessness in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area.
“Even having a place to go to the washroom is unavailable,” she said. “Parksville’s Church of Ascension started to offer showers a few times a week since October, but beyond that there is no access to those kinds of services.”
She said by OHEART’s current numbers, more than 44 people have accessed the COVID response shelter, which only has a maximum of 16 beds. Four people have obtained more permanent housing, but the rest have not.
“Our total list of people seeking shelter is close to 80 people. At this point in time no building has been identified as having the capacity to offer a warm space during this awful weather.”
The main problem many churches face right now are capacity limits associated with COVID safety protocols. However a larger space, such as a community centre, would fit the requirements, Musie suggested.
Using a community centre would provide the physical spacing necessary, safety for users and access to washrooms facilities, including showers.
Muise said churches would like to offer space, but in complying with current public health orders, have been officially asked to remain closed. Not only would it require ‘special permission’ to remain open during these times, but many would still not be able to provide the same number of beds as they had previously.
“If there was something the city could open up, for the short amount of time that it’s really this terribly cold outside, they could probably figure something out,” she said.
The city has an emergency service that could be activated, said Muise. Last year she made phone calls to the City of Parksville and the Town of Qualicum Beach and asked for their help in implementing the emergency service.
“And they were really great at that time, in putting in a request to the provincial emergency services. But the response was no.”
Muise said what is needed right now is co-operation from the federal, provincial and municipal governments.
“It’s a combination of everybody working together. And we need co-operation at all levels. We could do a lot of amazing things… We could be offering so much more services than what are currently being offered.”
Citizens who would like to provide assistance can do so by supporting different local agencies in the area, such as OHEART, the Society of Organized Services District 69, and the Forward House Community Society.