One of the victims displaced by the Ocean Terrace apartment fire in Parksville last month may have no option but to live in her van if she cannot find a permanent — or even a temporary — home to stay in.
The woman, who is in her 70s and does not want her identity revealed to the public, has already been struggling to find a temporary shelter and has been bouncing from one accommodation to the another with no definite prospects in sight.
“I just don’t know where I’d be every day,” she said. And she’s not the only one as there are five other residents from that apartment building who are also on the brink of becoming homeless.
For now, friends, who she calls her heroes, are helping her. They got her to stay in a motel for four days but after that, she doesn’t know where she’ll end up. Over the weekend, she was taken to hospital due to health concerns. A friend, who is helping her, indicated that she is truly distressed and extremely worried about her welfare and it has taken its toll on her health. Once released from the hospital, she still does not have a definite place to go home to.
Worse comes to worse, she said, when all her options have run out, she’ll have no recourse but to sleep in her van, which she did a couple of weeks ago.
“I would have to,” she said.
However, it’s not a safe option because when she did that, a stranger came knocking on her van at 3 a.m. asking her to if she wanted to go for a drink. And that scared her. She approached the Parksville RCMP and asked if she could park at the detachment and sleep in her van there if she is unable to find a place to stay.
“I would feel safer there,” she said. “The corporal I talked to checked whether it was OK and they said yes. That was kind of comforting.”
She was staying at the Hirst House transition home in Parksville just a couple of weeks ago, but she was told to leave because she does not meet the criteria of the home that is funded by Vancouver Island Health Authority.
“I don’t have a mental health issue; that’s why they said I can’t stay there,” she said. “There is an empty room there and it’s still available. They asked me to move to Port Alberni but I don’t want to go there because I have never been there. I want to stay here in Parksville.”
There is no affordable housing available in Parksville right now. She said she has a pension but it’s not a lot. She used to pay $850 when she was living at Ocean Terrace Apartments.
To her knowlege, she said, the owner of the building has not helped any of the displaced residents at all. The insurance company of the roofers that were alleged to have caused the July 6 fire have not come forward with any assistance to pay for their hotels and other needs, she added.
All the victims from the fire, she said, went to city hall to ask Mayor Marc Lefebvre to help them secure housing or a place to stay. She said when the temperature drops to minus 20 they are able to offer emergency accommodations.
“Why can’t they open something like that?” she asked.
Her friends are doing their utmost to help her find a place to stay. At present, the hotels are also fully booked and are not always available.
The Mount Arrowsmith Salvation Army is also helping her and five other evacuees — five women and a man. But there are added complications that has made its task significantly challenging.
Earl Blacklock, manager of community ministries, said one of their concerns is the health of the displaced residents. They have medical issues that have compounded their ability to access assistance. They have become barriers to a temporary housing solution.
Salvation Army Major Norman Hamelin indicated “the system that we have now is not geared to meet the specific needs, the special needs for individuals. Right now we have about six of them that are in danger of becoming homeless because of their unique circumstances.”
“The six evacuees have been difficult to place for one reason or another,” said Blacklock. “And the system in place that is intended to ensure that they are safe and they are not put into a homeless situation, simply is either not adequate or there’s deficiencies in the process or in training that can create additional challenges for us.”
Hamelin and Blacklock agreed that it’s unacceptable.
“We are going to be having discussions with Island Health to see if there are ways we can suggest to improve that system,” said Blacklock. “There should be a means of expediting the assistance but there generally isn’t. They (the victims) end up fighting an unfamiliar bureaucracy that doesn’t really give them adequate answers for why decisions are being made the way that they are.”
Blacklock added the other problem they have is their obligation to preserve each person’s dignity.
“Dignity involves, essentially, needing to be able to make decision on one’s own behalf,” said Blacklock. “So if you say, I don’t like the option that you just presented me, make an attempt to find another option instead of saying well that’s the option. The system seems to be oriented to ‘we’ve done our part now you have to fall in line.’”
Some of the victims also have pets which Blacklock said are “important for their emotional well-being. We are not suggesting that they give up their pets. For a lot them it’s not an option.”
Another issue they’re facing is most transitional homes prefer non-smoking females. They have one male, who also smokes, which Blacklock said is two strikes against him.
“We need emergency shelters to cover people who are in this kind of a situation so that they can transition into permanent housing,” said Blacklock.
The Salvation Army is looking to the community for some solutions. What they need are recreational vehicles that people might want to get rid of.
“We can provide a tax receipt for fair-market value for an RV,” said Blacklock. “It’s something we can employ very quickly. When we get them, we can turn it around in two days, set them up for people so they can have a temporary place to live in.”
As well, Blacklock said that they are looking at carriage houses in some people’s backyards that are now being used for storage that could be converted to either a rental or short-term emergency housing.