A non-profit society operating Parksville’s only cold weather shelter is looking at a major budget deficit while it waits for BC Housing to reimburse approximately $58,000 in invoices sent.
Risebridge began operating an extreme weather warming centre at the Parksville Community Centre on Mills Street during a cold snap in December.
During an update to city council, executive director and founder Jovonne Johnson said the non-profit did not initially intend on operating in Parksville this winter.
“We’re here because we answered the emergency need and the call for it,” Johnson said during her presentation to council’s Jan. 16 regular meeting. She asked council to consider reimbursing Risebridge $4,811 in operating costs.
Risebridge began running the warming centre with provincial funding through the City of Parksville. When the extreme weather was called off around Dec. 23, Johnson said Risebridge decided to keep the centre open.
“Knowing that we didn’t have answers yet from BC Housing, we were going into Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, those were three days that nobody in the community wanted to see us shutting down,” Johnson said. “Especially because we were the only open operating agency that was providing any type of resource or supports over the two weeks in this community.”
She added community members and businesses stepped up financially to allow Risebridge to stay open.
“Starting and closing a service like this would see significant difficulties in our overall operations,” Johnson said. “We wanted to continue to build on the relationships with the clients we were supporting.”
When asked by Acting Mayor Mary Beil how much funding BC Housing provides, Johnson said Risebridge had provided an updated proposal plan of $156,000 for 100 days of operation, with basic resource support, three support workers and security, but their proposal had not been approved and no funding received as of Jan. 16.
“Risebridge is now almost $58,000 behind in our own financial budget, considering our operations in the City of Parksville for the last six weeks,” Johnson said. “So that $4,811 is just what we’ll be in deficit if BC Housing reimburses the invoices that we have sent them.”
In a statement, BC Housing said it is working with the City of Parksville to ensure people experiencing homelessness have access to a safe indoor space this winter, and Risebridge has submitted a budget proposal to BC Housing.
“We are thankful that Risebridge was able to mobilize and quickly open a space during particularly cold conditions in the last few weeks of December,” the statement read. “BC Housing has already reimbursed Risebridge for some of the operating costs, such as staffing and food. We are working with Risebridge to finalize an agreed upon operating plan for the shelter and are currently reviewing the other expenses they have submitted. Our collective goal is to ensure a shelter is available in the community, particularly during the winter months, so people experiencing homelessness continue to have a place to seek refuge and support.”
The non-profit intends to operate the shelter for four months, up to the end of March, Johnson said in her presentation. It is operated by staff trained in trauma-informed practices and most directors and staff have a background in social services or health care including nursing, social work and child and youth care.
The shelter can accommodate up to 30 guests at a time and has welcomed 53 guests in total as of Jan. 16, including 28 unique faces, Johnson said. Guests are provided food such as instant noodles and oatmeal, along with warm drinks and basic hygiene supplies. They sleep on cots with a yoga mat, blanket and pillow, and each can put their personal belongings in a large Rubbermaid tote.
Johnson told council all guests so far have identified themselves as residents of Parksville, with most being born in Parksville, Qualicum Beach or Port Alberni. The majority of guests have been between the age of 15 and 24, with 40 per cent identifying as female, according to Johnson’s report.
Risebridge incorporated as a society in the summer of 2021 and is run by community members and professionals. It opened its community centre in Nanaimo in February 2022 and in the first year of operations has supported more than 700 people in the mid-Island region, Johnson said.
Coun. Sylvia Martin mentioned that although there was an uptick in noise complaints at the beginning, recently she had not heard any.
Johnson said staff take measures to avoid nuisances such as shopping carts and garbage near the shelter, going as far as to provide a tent for the carts. Security personnel do property checks every 20 minutes and staff have a good working relationship with city bylaw and Oceanside RCMP.
Coun. Sean Wood asked if Johnson could address the idea that people are being bused from Nanaimo to Parksville to use the shelter.
Johnson said it is actually the opposite and that people from Parksville have accessed Risebridge in Nanaimo.
“The people who are here are here because this is their home,” she said. “Their parents are here. They went to school here.”
Coun. Adam Fras suggested having guests sign a Good Neighbour agreement would be helpful.
Coun. Joel Grenz asked if Risebridge was registered as charitable organization, so people could donate and receive a tax receipt.
Johnson replied that Risebridge was not eligible to apply for charity status until approximately two months ago, when its first annual general meeting was finalized.
“We hope our friends at all levels of government can help us in being able to make that happen sooner than later,” she added.