Fifty-two individuals have been chosen to be the first residents at Orca Place — Parksville’s new supportive housing facility at 222 Corfield St., expected to open this summer.
The individuals were chosen after collaboration between Island Crisis Care Society, BC Housing and other community partners.
“We followed a co-ordinated access and assessment process,” said BC Housing regional director Heidi Hartman.
“All the applications that we received were reviewed and we identified 52 individuals for housing.”
As part of the criteria for moving into Orca Place, individuals had to have lived in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area for one year.
Orca Place includes 52 studio and one-bedroom suites, including six accessible units. Each room includes a private bathroom and kitchen and each resident will receive a cold breakfast and warm dinner each day.
Island Crisis Care Society will provide 24/7 staffing for the program and maintain the building.
The facility will also take security measures such as having well-lit and fenced grounds, camera monitoring and a controlled entrance.
“This is permanent housing, but that being said there are some who may wish to move into more independent housing once that they have stabilized and become more well,” said ICCS executive director Violet Hayes. “As we were doing the intakes, we did recognize that this may be the case for some of the residents. Our staff will support those who wish to move on to find housing if and when that happens.”
Each resident pays rent based on the shelter rate they receive from income assistance or if they’re working, 30 per cent of their income. In addition, residents must sign a Program Participant Agreement that speaks to the rules of the housing facility, guest policies, behaviours of the individual and responsibility of paying rent.
Hartman said in certain circumstances, residencies can be discontinued if an individual doesn’t comply with facility rules but that it’s best to keep individuals housed.
“We know that there’s stability and opportunity to be able to support people on the road to recovery when they’re housed. So whenever possible the non-profit works to support the residency continuing,” Hartman said. “In circumstances they do sometimes have to end the residency. When that happens the non profits may work with other providers to see if [individuals] can be rehoused somewhere else or maybe they transition them to the shelter.”
Hartman said she’s had the privilege of seeing first-hand how supportive housing can help homeless individuals on their recovery journey.
“I’ve been involved with the Nanaimo encampment so I saw the individuals when they were in the camp and then I saw them a few months later when they had a roof over their head and two meals a day and it’s just amazing the difference,” Hartman said. “We know that under the housing-first model that it’s evidence-based, it’s known around the world that when we get a roof over our head that creates the opportunity for us to start a journey to recovery. I hear everyday about individuals once their in housing deciding they’re ready to start that road to recovery and they want go to detox or treatment.”
Hartman said it’s also common for individuals, once they are housed, to reconnect with family because now they have somewhere they can invite them to visit.
Wes Hewitt, executive director of the Port Alberni Shelter Society, has also seen the successes of supportive housing. In March, Our Home, a 30-unit supportive housing facility with 18 short-term shelter beds, a family unit and an additional 18 wet weather spots, opened its doors in Port Alberni on 8th Avenue.
“Since the first week of March, we’ve already had clients go to detox and treatment and clients that are now employed part-time or have gone back to school,” Hewitt said. “That’s the principle of what supportive housing is supposed to do. It’s an opportunity to work with those individuals and move them ahead in their lives.
In addition, Hewitt said supportive housing helps take the worry away from individuals having to find a place to sleep or where they’re going to find their next meal.
“Statistically it’s proven that if your nutrition and your health improves, your mental health improves along with it, so that’s where you’ll see the easiest changes in supportive housing,” Hewitt said.
Another positive of taking individuals off the street, Hewitt said, is crime “technically should decrease”
“Crime rates should go down and yes, the NIMBYism is something that happens in the community, but if the facility is operated properly, the housing is operated and well-managed there won’t be any issues,” Hewitt said. “BC Housing has worked very hard to make sure there’s community consultations and committees and things that even if there is a situation that it’s addressed and dealt with.”
For Orca Place, a community advisory committee that could be made up of community partners, RCMP members, Island Health, ICCS and BC Housing staff, will offer feedback to BC Housing on what is and what isn’t working for the Parksville facility.
“We need to hear from that group what is working and what we can do better,” Hartman said.