Parksville’s mayor wants to provide taxpayer-owned land for homeless shelter

Meanwhile, some Foster Park-area residents display frustration and anger as they see a tent go up for the night in the park

Mayor Marc Lefebvre says the city should provide a taxpayer-owned piece of land for a homeless shelter in Parksville.

Lefebvre said this week he does not have a specific motion yet for council to consider and he’s not certain to what degree he’ll get support from fellow councillors. He also said he is waiting for the Oceanside Homelessness Task Force to provide details on what size and location would be appropriate for the services required.

“We have to get some idea of what we need in terms of square footage,” Lefebvre said this week. “If we don’t have a property with an adequate size we’ll see what’s for sale out there in the community.”

Lefebvre’s comments were made after he met with Manna Homeless Society founder Robin Campbell. That meeting came after Campbell sent a tersely-worded letter to the mayor, with a copy to The NEWS.

“The city is lacking vision in this area,” Campbell wrote. “Parksville is identified as a world-class location to live. We now need to take that step to the homeless showing the world we also have a heart. The solution is only one decision away from becoming a reality, therefore it is now in the city’s ball court to do what is right.”

In an interview after his meeting with Lefebvre on Tuesday, Campbell said he believes “there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I’m really happy that land is now available and it’s going to be public knowledge,” said Campbell. “This will take the pressure off, with everyone knowing there is land. Hopefully we can maintain (services) until it’s built.”

About five years ago when the task force was formed, a consultant suggested the city follow three steps in relation to the homeless in the region. First was a formal count of homeless in the area. Second was to get businesses, the RCMP and the larger community on board. Third suggested the donation of city-owned land for a facility could attract senior government funds for construction and operation.

“Step one has been completed, but nothing has been accomplished since then,” Campbell wrote to the mayor.

The last piece of news from the task force was about eight months ago when it hosted a dinner/panel discussion regarding homelessness in the area. The panel members, representing various social services organizations, said they were ready to move ahead with Housing First initiatives.

Meanwhile, the fallout from council’s decision last week to give three readings to a bylaw related to where and when homeless people can pitch a tent at night was swift.

People who said they were members of the Friends of Foster Park packed council chambers for the bylaw debate last week and won a concession — the bylaw was changed to stipulate no tenting was allowed within 40 metres of the Foster Park children’s playground.

The bylaw — final approval is expected during a council meeting on Monday — would prohibit tenting in Community Park, Springwood Park and near the city’s well fields near Despard Avenue. The city believes recent court decisions do not allow the city to prohibit tenting in all city-owned parks and open spaces.

“The court decision says a person who is homeless can erect a temporary shelter on public lands between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. daily,” Lefebvre wrote in a letter to some Foster Park-area residents. “Local governments can balance competing interests and can prohibit overnight accommodation in key sensitive areas. It is believed the Community Park, Springwood Park and the municipal well fields and city-owned lands along the oceanfront meet the legal tests to be considered sensitive lands and the city would be justified in prohibiting overnight accommodation by anyone in these areas.”

On Tuesday morning, Foster Park-area residents called The NEWS and bombarded social media with reports of a person in a tent at the park. Pictures of the tent were posted and at least one resident approached the man who slept there overnight. Reports indicated the man vacated the park by 9:30 a.m.

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