Winter has often been hard for Brandon Nakagawa, who has slept on the streets of Parksville for the past four years, but the coming cold season has him especially concerned.
People who are affected by homelessness or are at risk of homelessness like Nakagawa, who has lived in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area his whole life, are worried about the effects of not currently having a dedicated cold-weather shelter in the area. He has a place to stay right now, but said he worries about the coming winter and attitudes towards homelessness in general.
“We’re not accepted at all here, they’re trying to run us out of town — they don’t have any heart it seems like,” Nakagawa said. “A lot of change needs to happen, that’s for sure.”
Jerrold Paetkau, community chaplain and operations manager at Manna Homeless Society, echoed Nakagawa’s sentiments. He said the effects of not having a shelter could easily be fatal.
“We’ve had some cold weather already this month and if they continue to live out there, there’s a very likelihood that someone will perish with hypothermia,” said Paetkau.
He points to the supportive housing complex at Orca Place which opened in August 2019, now home to 52 people, as proof of demand in the area.
“One-hundred and 18 people were on the list, 52 were taken, so we’ve got room in this community for another facility like Orca Place,” said Paetkau. “And these aren’t people from outside our community, these are community people.”
The City of Parksville secured full control over the use of the property by purchasing it for $700,000 and repaying a $492,400 grant-in-aid to the Regional District of Nanaimo. With the purchase, the housing facility no longer required an eight-bed, cold-weather shelter, which was a requirement of the RDN. BC Housing has told The NEWS they are looking for a new location for the shelter.
Local churches may share taking on shelter responsibilities, although nothing has been confirmed. In the past, the Arbutus Grove Church, the Salvation Army and VIU facilities have been home to shelters. The Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness has had a shelter of some sort in Parksville since 2011.
“At this point we are still working on it, including working with the churches in hopes that we can establish a cold-weather shelter by Nov. 1. If anyone in the community has any ideas, we would be open to hearing them,” said Susanna Newton, co-chair of Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness, in an email.
In an email, Andrea Coutts, Senior Communications Advisor at BC Housing, said, “While a site has not yet been located to operate a shelter in Parksville, BC Housing is working with community partners, including local churches, to identify and operate an EWR shelter solution for the community.”
For Paetkau, he hopes the community will be able to find a solution, as well as see the value in supporting more marginalized members of Parksville.
“It’s a step in the direction that allows people to realize that, that there is hope, that there’s a way out of the situation that they find themselves in. And that there are people around who can care and help them,” said Paetkau about supportive housing. “That’s all we’re asking, we’re just simply asking for the return of the service that will help people.”