Ballenas Senior Secondary School students had the opportunity to grill Parksville city council at a Feb. 20 regular meeting held in the school’s theatre.
Students weren’t shy to step up to the mic and ask council some hard-hitting questions surrounding homelessness, transportation, student safety and youth activity opportunities.
A Grade 11 student, and president of the school’s Interact Club, asked council what the status was with their agreements with Manna Homeless Society.
Back in November, the City of Parksville issued Manna a cease and desist order to stop giving out food and other items at a city-owned property on Jensen Avenue.
“As a club we have supported them in the past and fundraised and given them food and clothing,” the student said.
Parksville mayor Ed Mayne said the city has supported Manna all along but not them distributing items at the property next to city hall.
“The reason for that was the mess that was being left there after the distribution was finished and it was costing us money,” Mayne said. “We had to pay crews to go in and cleanup the mess so we asked Manna not to do any distribution from there.”
Mayne said he has since met with Manna director and co-founder Robin Campbell and the two have come up with decisions for new locations for the society to distribute items to the less fortunate.
“[Campbell] made the decision on his own, that he was going to set up five different locations for distribution. We think that was a much better idea in the long run because it was able to spread what they were able to do all through the City of Parksville and even out into Qualicum Beach,” Mayne said. “It ended up with a much better result than what we had.”
Another student named Spencer asked if council had any plans to improve snow removal from city sidewalks.
“The road clearing has been fairly decent in our area but one of the main troubles is sidewalks and because all the snow from the road just gets plowed onto the sidewalks, it’s supposed to be the property owners responsibility to clear them but many people don’t,” Spencer said. “As a student walking to school it’s safer for us to walk on the roads then it is for us to walk on the sidewalks, which I don’t think is a great long-term solution and it puts students at risk.”
Mayne said it is in fact property owners’ responsibility to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes or businesses within 24 hours of when the snow stops and that fines can be distributed if it is not removed.
“It is a problem and we wish people would do it more diligently and hopefully they will and we will continue to work at it,” Mayne said.
Later in the meeting, Spencer stood back up to ask another question, this time regarding an activity centre and whether council had any plans to develop one in Parksville.
“I’m fairly active as a youth in this community and looking around Parksville there just isn’t many activities for us to do. We don’t have any movie theatres, we barely have a mall to hang out at, there’s no activity centres, the closest thing is probably Ravensong but even still that’s a bus ride to get to,” Spencer said. “Is there any plans to help develop and build more facilities in the community to facilitate active living in the youth?”
Mayne said the short answer is yes, council is beginning to discuss an activity centre for Parksville.
“We’ve just started to peck away at that within the last week or so. I don’t have a lot to tell you right now but we are aware that that’s an issue, we’re aware that it’s got to be fixed,” Mayne said. “We want to see a sportsplex of some sort built in town, we would love to see a swimming pool if we could afford to put one in Parksville, a decent track and proper soccer fields. They all take money and we have to spend it as a priority but we are working on it.”
A Grade 11 student named Amber got up and pointed out a rise in homeless youth in the community and asked council if they are working on any initiatives to address or support these youth.
“That’s the number one question in all of B.C., in fact I’d be willing to guess the number one question in all of Canada,” Mayne said. “I heard about three or four weeks ago that the province of B.C. has 8,000 homeless people right now, Parksville has 42 homeless people, it doesn’t seem like a lot but if there’s one that’s too many.”
Mayne said Parksville currently has a less than one per cent vacancy rate for rental units and that the best thing the city can do is increase the amount of housing and rental units.
“There’s five apartment buildings (in Parksville) that are in the process of being approved right now and that will generate 400 to 500 units,” Mayne said. “We’re trying our best to move as fast as we can to get them under construction but it’s going to take a year or better before we start to see the results of it.”
Mayne said the City of Parksville’s overall budget is $13 million and that even if the city put “every penny” towards homelessness it wouldn’t fix the problem.
“We don’t have the wherewithal to be able to fund homelessness, it is a provincial and a federal jurisdiction that has to handle it,” he said.
Parksville city council aims to hold meetings at various locations in the community to provide residents with additional opportunities to attend and engage with council.
The June 17 regular council meeting is scheduled to be held at Knox United Church.