Brice tosses the business card and five dollar bill on the table with obvious disgust.
He’s homeless and not in a position to refuse any sum of money, but he wants to make a point: this is what he got when he went to Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell’s office for help this week.
Manna Ministries’ Robin Campbell read Stilwell’s letter to the editor in the Nov. 17 edition of The NEWS and said he thought he saw an opportunity to get the homeless and poor of the region more help. Stilwell ended her letter with this: “I care about all my constituents, and if you or someone you know is homeless or threatened with homelessness, please come by the office . . . for immediate assistance.”
Campbell steered some people, including 41-year-old Brice and 24-year-old Jennifer, to the MLA’s office after reading that letter.
“There are no resources there (at the MLA’s office) at all, not even a pamphlet” said Brice, smelling of woodsmoke and soon headed back with Jennifer to their tent near Wembley Mall. “I got a card and five bucks. They told me to go get a coffee while they called the Homelessness Task Force. That’s all they gave me.”
Campbell, Brice and Jennifer knew what the task force office was going to say. They have been there. There’s no housing available, period.
“It was a very misleading letter that Stilwell wrote,” said Campbell, who has given out 85 tents this year to homeless people. “It’s a bull*&$@ story that Stilwell is going to help them.”
Stilwell said Tuesday the $5 from staff was a “gesture of goodwill” while staff made some calls to try to help Brice. Stilwell said Brice did not return to the office to learn what staff had done on his behalf.
Brice told The NEWS later Tuesday that Stilwell’s staff had sorted out some problems he had with social assistance, for which he was grateful, but nothing that would have him and Jennifer out of the tent any time soon.
“As for the homeless part of it, not really — they just handed me off to (the homelessness task force),” said Brice.
Brice was a painter. He said he has done many other jobs, too. He said he wants to work. Jennifer said the same. They said they are both on social assistance.
Both said it’s difficult to seek work — if there are any jobs to be had at this time of year in this region.
“We want to go to work, but it’s hard if you have no base,” said Brice. Both Brice and Jennifer have taken advantage of the extreme weather shelter in downtown Parksville, but they said that arrangement has its own challenges. “You are afraid to leave your camp because things will get stolen,” said Brice.
Operated by The Salvation Army and housed in its church at 187 Alberni Highway in Parksville, the extreme weather shelter is open from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. on nights of inclement or extreme weather only. Clients are provided with cots, blankets, pillows, along with an evening meal and breakfast.
Transportation to and from the shelter is a challenge. Many homeless are camped a long way from downtown Parksville and it’s not like they have a computer or text alert to tell them when the shelter is actually open. “It sucks that they kick you out at 8 a.m. and you’re out in the cold all day,” said Jennifer.
“The people don’t want to leave their camps when they don’t know if it (the extreme weather shelter) is open or not,” said Campbell. “And even if it’s five (degrees) above, it’s damp, it’s cold.”
Brice said he would like to see a “surviving in Parksville guidebook” developed. He also had a request that’s been repeated time and time again in the city from service providers, homeless people and others:
“I would like to see a homeless shelter built in this town.”
Stilwell said Tuesday there’re no plans for a permanent shelter in Parksville Qualicum Beach, but “I’m not saying it’s not doable.”