A pile of unsalvageable furniture sits outside of the Ocean Terrace which was the scene of a fire on July 6. Residents of the apartment are unable to move back into the building. — Lauren Collins photo

VIDEO: Parksville apartment fire victims still looking for long-term housing

Salvation Army says it’s a ‘housing emergency’

The Mount Arrowsmith Salvation Army says there is a housing emergency with 35 residents displaced after a fire in a Parksville apartment building.

The fire was at the four-storey, 32-unit Oceanside Terrace Apartments, at 240 Island Hwy. W., on July 6.

Earl Blacklock, manager of community ministries with the Salvation Army, said because there are no homes for the displaced residents, it’s having a ripple effect in the community.

He said while the Salvation Army is trying to be there for the people affected by finding them short-term housing, relocating the fire evacuees would mean 32 homes would no longer be available to other residents.

“That’s what constitutes a housing emergency for us,” said Blacklock. “No matter what we do, we’re having a ripple effect on the vacancy rate,” Blacklock said.

“While we are trying to do good for the evacuees, we’ve committed to responding to the housing emergency beyond even the evacuees. We have committed to a plan for providing long-term housing that is both existing housing and permanent and temporary housing to bridge to permanent housing.”

On Monday evening, Blacklock and Salvation Army Major Norm Hamelin appeared as a delegation before Parksville city council to highlight the crisis and request the city’s assistance in securing land for an affordable housing project or even a “tiny homes” village.

Of the 35 residents displaced by the Ocean Terrace fire, Blacklock said two-thirds are still looking for long-term accommodation.

“We have almost all of them in short-term accomodation, but the people that are providing that short-term accommodation, they’re looking for a sense of normalcy too. Theyre being impacted just by having to share their home with either a relative or a friend,” Blacklock said.

The Salvation Army, he said, is continuing to look for short-term housing until the vacancy rate is high enough for long-term housing.

But that will last only so long, Blacklock said. The vacancies are expected to be there in the winter months, at which time Blacklock said everyone should have a place. But that will change once again next spring.

“Now we come to April, that’s when the crisis will really hit,” he said. “We expect this to have an effect on the community for one year, probably two.”

Blacklock said two-thirds of the people affected by the fire are low income and without insurance.

“Their rents were very low in comparison to the market,” he said. “If they are to stay in this community, they are going to need support to identify and move to a similarly low (cost) rental.

“What we’re really tackling is not only the fact that there is a zero vacancy rate, but there is especially a zero vacancy rate of apartments and homes in this price range.”

Blacklock said the Salvation Army has a very tight timeframe to get everyone housed.

“We want to have these homes in place by winter… Even if the community were to declare right now that they’re going to build and build all the homes that will be needed, it takes two years or more to accomplish that. We need to do it in three months.”

The Salvation Army has also been helping the victims by providing vouchers for its thrift store to replace clothing, along with bedding and mattresses.

“We’re taking each person and looking at their situation. If they have insurance, then their needs aren’t as great as if they don’t. Two-thirds don’t have insurance, so it’s those two thirds we’re primarily focused on helping on the goods side.”

Blacklock also said they put a call out to people who have RVs or travel trailers that the Salvation Army can use to house people. He also said they’re looking into tiny homes for the victims too.

Hamelin said the business community has really stepped up and donated space for product overflow and the victims’ personal belongings.

But he added that financial donations are still needed.

“Every little bit helps,” Hamelin said. “Going forward, the initiative… the RV emergency sites, the tiny home community, that’s going to be challenging for some people in the community to embrace, so we’re going to need not just the businesses, but the citizens, to step up and to say, ‘Yeah, we think this is something we should do as a community.’”

For more information on how to donate, visit www.parksvillesalvationarmy.ca or call 250-248-8794.

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