After months of scrambling, a cold-weather shelter solution was found for the Parksville Qualicum Beach area — but people haven’t been showing up to use it.
Rev. Christine Muise of the new non-profit society Oceanside Homelessness Ecumenical Advocacy Response Team Society (OHEART), responsible for the cold-weather shelters, said no one showed up at the pickup point for the cold-weather shelter transport last week, even though she knows there’s a demand in the area.
On Dec.19, seven churches in the area started hosting shelter spaces on rotating nights and people wanting to use them were told to meet at the Salvation Army between 5 p.m. and 5:45 p.m to get taken to the night’s location.
She said the small window of time allotted for people to show up, to then be transported to a different church each night, is proving to be inaccessible, so OHEART is working on finding solutions.
“So, last week we started and that was part of realizing that people were not going to come to the Salvation Army,” said Muise. “So, we’ve had to ask questions around, you know, why aren’t people accessing this neighbourhood at this time? Why is there no one here when we know that there are at least 60 people who are homeless right now?”
St. Anne’s is going to take on sole shelter duties until the New Year, since they don’t have Christmas programs like many of the other churches involved. In the meantime, Muise said OHEART will look at the potential of changing the hard entry time slot to a more flexible one.
“You know, we’re brand-new, we’re doing our best and we’re figuring it out,” she said. “We’re just trying to be in tune with what the needs really are and how we can adjust how we do things to lower the barriers.”
She’s seen a more stable solution work at St. Anne’s, where she is the priest associate. They’ve hosted pray-and-stay vigils since Dec.6, which gives people food and a warm place to eat.
Muise said since St. Anne’s opened their vigils, between four and 14 people have come nightly.
“Our lowest day was four people,” she said. “Pretty regular to have between eight to 10 people a night.”
As of now, the shelter solution offers eight beds. Muise said there’s a potential to get more beds through conversation with BC Housing.
“That’s not a hard number, but it might change from church to church. We haven’t figured out those hard numbers yet, but there is some ability to be human which was really important to me,” she said. “If there’s eight people in there and the ninth person comes… it’s an emergency cold-weather shelter.”
She reiterated OHEART is new and these are all just conversations at this point. Muise said people in the congregation and community have expressed a desire to keep the vigils going, which would allow for overflow if more than eight people show up for the cold-weather shelter.
“If there was an overflow there would be a capacity, possibly,” she said. “Right now, we’re not there yet.”
For now, Muise said OHEART is taking things as they come. She said community donations and support have all made it possible thus far, and that response has been overwhelmingly positive — and has contributed greatly to helping people get out of the cold.
“Specifically with our first mandate to get the shelter up and running, our goal is to have an on-the-ground organic response to the issue to be able to be dynamic, to be creative, to just really try to serve the people for which we’ve been asked to care for,” she said. “Our second mandate will be after this season, but we will work with all levels of government to work on solutions for the homelessness and housing issues in the community.”