As members of the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness (OTFH) worked to share more information on the proposed supportive housing project on Corfield Street in Parksville, more than 100 people packed the Parksville legion Friday, April 13, for a meeting organized by residents opposed to the 52-unit housing development.
The evening was meant to be an open house addressing information and concerns around the $6.9 million project at 222 Corfield St.
On March 9, B.C.’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Selina Robinson, arrived in Parksville to announce the funding to construct the supportive housing units, with a goal of opening the facility in spring of 2019.
Later, during its 2018-22 draft financial plan deliberations, Parksville council agreed to waive development fees for the project, at a total cost of $450,500.
The project is being taken on through a partnership with the Regional District of Nanaimo, the City of Parksville and the Town of Qualicum Beach. Island Crisis Care Society (ICCS) will be contracted by BC Housing to staff the facility and provide full-time support for previously homeless or under-housed residents with a range of vulnerabilities, including drug use, mental health and health care.
The City of Parksville in its March 19 meeting, approved the start of a rezoning bylaw to allow construction of the housing development.
The following day (March 20), BC Housing and ICCS hosted an open house with the city.
One of the April 13 organizers, Doug O’Brien, said the meeting and the website (parksvilleshelter.com) is meant to clear up some misunderstanding. He said there has been limited information from city council, BC Housing and ICCS.
“It’s not misinformation, just maybe not all the information.”
Members of the OTFH, meanwhile, sat down with The NEWS to clear up what they say are misconceptions circulating in the community.
Adam Fras, one of the organizers of Friday’s meeting, told the crowd when the project was announced last month, he wasn’t getting a lot of information. He said he took the opportunity to talk to people with the project, such as ICCS executive director Violet Hayes.
Fras said he was told to compare the 52-unit to other facilities in the province.
“I compared what it’s like, and it’s nothing like what they’re comparing it to. We don’t have any idea what’s to become out of this,” Fras told the crowd. “If you ask them what’s the contingency plan if things don’t go the way they hoped; there is none. They don’t have one.”
An issue for Fras and other project opponents is the shelter component of the project, which is not a part of other supportive housing projects used for comparison.
But Hayes said this is simply the annual temporary winter shelter that BC Housing has funded in the region for the past seven years. It will provide eight shelter beds from November 1 through March 31 each year.
“Those shelter beds have been in the community for seven years,” said Susanna Newton, executive director of the Society of Organized Services (SOS). It’s not anything new; it just hasn’t had a permanent home.”
That new home, added Hayes, will include separate rooms for men and women, showers and laundry facilities. Shelter visitors would check in at night and leave in the morning, as they have in previous years.
As for people moving into the housing project, Fras said he was told there will be a selection process. He said there is a vulnerability assessment tool to interview people and then refer them to live there.
“They say the Oceanside residents will get preference or priority, but if you don’t meet those needs that we can’t fill in the community — they will fill up that building,” said Fras. “It will be 100 per cent full. The idea that they’ll be bringing in people from other communities, that’s absolutely the idea of it.”
Yet members of the Housing Outreach Services Team, which has already been supporting vulnerable clients for three years, say that’s not the idea at all.
“We’ve had over 50 people we’ve housed now in three years. We already know a lot of the clients, we’re already working with the clients and we have a waiting list now,” said Sharon Welch, executive director of Forward House. “So we have local people waiting to get into this housing project.”
“We’re actually housing people right now, in our organization, in Nanaimo that are Oceanside residents,” said Hayes. “And they want to come home.”
At the April 13 meeting, a resident in the crowd asked O’Brien why Parksville was chosen for this project. O’Brien said it was because the City of Nanaimo lost provincial funding after turning down a Chase River location for a supportive housing project.
“The provincial government had the funding they’d already budgeted for… and Parksville said, ‘We already have the land.’”
“That is just not true,” Hayes countered. “The task force has been working on this issue for nine years, and has been working with BC Housing on this particular project for two-and-a-half to three years.”
The land at 222 Corfield St. was purchased in a joint agreement by the RDN, the City of Parksville and the Town of Qualicum Beach in April 2017.
Two RCMP officers were at the meeting, and audience members asked Cpl. Jesse Foreman for the RCMP’s “unbiased, unemotional point of view.”
“We have to remain 100 per cent neutral. We’re given the speed limits we’re given, the housing we’re given, we’re given the businesses we’re given and we have to deal with that,” Foreman said.
Later, Realtor Clinton Miller asked Foreman how many more officers there should be based on the facility.
“Like Adam mentioned, there isn’t one of these anywhere in the Province of British Columbia that we can look to find stats or reasonable expectations,” Foreman said.
At least two full-time staff will be on site 24/7, said Hayes, helping to secure the site.
Hayes said no more than 20 per cent of the housing units would be devoted to the most extremely vulnerable people on the assessment tool — including drug addicts.
“We’ve had people say, ‘Well, you’re not expecting them to go in for treatment; you’re not making this a prerequisite,’” Hayes said. “But the thing we’re basing this on is the housing-first model.
“You give them housing first, then give them the supports, and then generally they want to improve; they want to get help.”
At the end of Friday’s meeting, the organizers asked people to sign the petition opposing the housing project. Organizers also asked attendees to contact the City of Parksville with their views, as well as attend a yet-to-be scheduled public hearing on a zoning bylaw amendment for 222 Corfield St.
For more information on the housing project from ICCS, visit www.islandcrisiscaresociety.ca and select 222 Corfield Street South under “Programs.” For information from the group that hosted Friday’s meeting, visit www.parksvilleshelter.com.