How Parksville’s St. Anne’s became a place homeless people would actually go

How Parksville’s St. Anne’s became a place homeless people would actually go

After opening as a ‘pray and stay’ vigil, church decided to stay open nightly

Among a graveyard of headstones dating back to the 1800s, down Church Road in Parksville, is a 125-year-old church called St. Anne’s — an old, wooden building that has somehow turned into a place where people affected by homelessness in the community feel safe.

John O’Halloran is one of those people — he’s been staying at the church since it opened its ‘pray and stay’ vigil in lieu of a cold-weather shelter on Dec. 6. Even once a cold-weather shelter solution was found, O’Halloran and many others kept staying at St. Anne’s. In fact, no one showed to the pickup spot for the much anticipated rotating shelter solution on Dec. 19.

O’Halloran, who is 66 and has lived in the area on and off for 30 years, said after waiting five weeks for a cold-weather shelter to open up, having St. Anne’s step in meant a big difference. He said the likes the environment, and the idea of shuffling between a different church every night is much less appealing.

“We’ve been all just coming here at night to stay warm and get through the winter,” he said.

The area, which has been in shelter limbo for months, finally got a cold-weather shelter solution in late December. Instead of having a dedicated spot, the plan was for seven churches to share the shelter duties. People who wanted to use the shelter were supposed to meet at a designated spot within a 45-minute window to get picked up and then transported to the night’s location.

So, after no one showed up to the designated pick up spot on the first day, St. Anne’s decided they would keep up their doors open.

Rev. Christine Muise, the Priest Associate for the church as well as the founding director for OHEART (the group working with BC Housing to find a shelter solution), initially said they would offer a place for people to sleep and feed them until a shelter solution was found.

However, since the seven-church rotation has been proved ineffective, Muise said they will continue hosting, and have now renamed it ‘Sanctuary Sleep.’ The rotation has stopped for now, but Muise said the other churches are contributing to St. Anne’s in different ways, and are ready to host places to sleep if necessary.

READ MORE: Cold-weather shelter solution still in flux for Parksville Qualicum Beach area

READ MORE: St.Anne’s Church offers temporary solution to cold-weather shelter issue

O’Halloran said he thinks the designated pick up spot approach wasn’t working for a variety of reasons.

“It’s been fun for the people who thought it up, [but not for] the people who have to use it, who have to meet up at five o’clock at Salvation Army then be transported to a different shelter every night,” he said. “They said it was creative, but it didn’t solve the problem at all, and nobody really wants to use that system at all.”

Part of it, he said, is adjusting to new rules that come with a new location. At St. Anne’s they take a low-barrier shelter approach. They allow couples to share a bed, which might not be allowed by every location. Also, the church allows people to show up when they want for a place to sleep, rather than having a hard entry time.

O’Halloran said another huge thing is having a consistent place to come back to — somewhere familiar.

“This place is continuity, it’s got flexibility,” he said. “It’s just wonderful that we get to live in this space and it’s very very clean.”

Still, O’Halloran said what the area desperately needs is a 24-hour shelter.

“There are lots of people who need shelter and it’s just not being provided, and you see other resources lacking in the community,” he said. “They want to support the development of retiree homes, but other than that, they really don’t have much of an interest in lower-income people.”

Orion Holtby, who has been staying at the church with his wife since the second night it opened, echoed O’Halloran’s sentiments about St. Anne’s feeling like a warm and safe space.

Before it opened, he said he would walk around Parksville through the night to stay warm. Then, in the day, he would find a place to sleep for a few hours.

“I was just so relieved when this place opened,” he said. “It’s just nice to be able to sleep in the same bed as your wife, it’s just little things like that and knowing that the community has really stepped forward.”

In terms of how the community has contributed — people have donated everything from sleeping supplies to a mini-fridge.

Staying at St. Anne’s also helped Holtby get off opioids, he said. He said since staying at the church, he’s had two clean drug tests.

Orion said although the program had been a ‘stay and pray’ vigil, he said he doesn’t feel like the faith component has been a deterrent for anyone coming to the church.

“I’m not a huge church person, but it’s really been uplifting and this church has so much history,” he said.

Muise said the community is welcome to stop by St. Anne’s, and she said a big part of what they want to do with the ‘Sanctuary Sleep’ is break down stigma and connect everyone from the area. Muise said she was initially worried that people in Parksville Qualicum Beach would be mad or judge her for opening up the church, but she said she’s seen nothing but kindness from the community.

“The community has gotten divided over a few very specific decisions that were made in that divisiveness, we’ve hurt the people that were trying to serve,” she said. “I think we’re all at the point now where it’s OK — where we’ve been wasn’t pretty, it was pretty ugly, but we don’t want to be there anymore.”

If anyone is interested in volunteering at St. Anne’s, or wants more information, they can email oceansideheart2020@gmail.com.

cloe.logan@pqbnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

John O’Halloran at St. Anne’s Church on Jan. 8 in Parksville. (Cloe Logan photo)

John O’Halloran at St. Anne’s Church on Jan. 8 in Parksville. (Cloe Logan photo)

Rev. Christine Muise at St. Anne’s Church on Jan. 8 in Parksville. (Cloe Logan photo)

Rev. Christine Muise at St. Anne’s Church on Jan. 8 in Parksville. (Cloe Logan photo)

Just Posted

The intersection of Despard Avenue and Moilliet Street, where a child was struck and injured in November 2020. (Mandy Moraes photo)
High-traffic Parksville intersection to get temporary 4-way stop

City staff to monitor effectiveness of traffic-calming measure at Despard and Moilliet

A Parksville Fire Department’s firefighter hoses down the facade of a Parksville Heritage Centre building after it caught fire on Friday afternoon (April 16). (Michael Briones photo)
Fire crews, roofers work to douse building fire in Parksville

Damage was minimal and workers escaped injury

Cast and crew of the Hallmark Channel series ‘Chesapeake Shores’ as they film at Parksville beach on April 15, 2021. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Fifth season of ‘Chesapeake Shores’ looks to showcase Parksville Qualicum Beach region

Executive producer: ‘We’re really excited for the fans to experience the fifth season’

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has listed Harbour Air and Air Canada flights to and from Nanaimo, from April 3, 4 and 12, on its list of flights with COVID-19. (News Bulletin file)
COVID-19 cases reported for Nanaimo flights, says disease control centre

Nanaimo flights for April 3, 4 and 12 listed on BCCDC’s list of flights with COVID-19

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Most Read