It was all smiles and congratulations when stakeholders gathered in Parksville to announce funding for a long-sought homeless shelter and affordable housing project in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region.
At Parksville’s council meeting Monday, March 19, the opposition arrived in force.
Council unanimously approved a motion to begin the rezoning process for the property at 222 Corfield St. in Parksville, an act which drew boos and shouts from a group in the gallery that came to oppose the 52-unit affordable housing and shelter project. When a couple audience members continued to argue from the back of the room, Mayor Marc Lefebvre said they would be expelled if they did not allow council to continue its business.
“Tomorrow you can come and yell all you want, but you’re not going to yell in this hall tonight,” Lefebvre said. “We’re going to show you respect and you’re going to show us respect. And if you don’t, I’ll have you removed. Please calm down.”
A public open house on the project is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, March 20, from 3-7 p.m. at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre. But residents concerned about inviting homeless people into the Corfield neighbourhood were unwilling to wait, and packed council chambers Monday. During the public comment period prior to the meeting, several of them stepped to the microphone to object to the project and criticize what they claimed to be the city’s lack of consultation and communication.
The meeting included a presentation from Violet Hayes of the Island Crisis Care Society, which has been contracted to manage and staff the social housing project, and Malcolm McNaughton, development director for BC Housing on Vancouver Island.
Hayes said the provincially funded project will include a 52-unit, modular affordable housing project, an operating subsidy and three shelter units with associated amenity and support services.
Coun. Kirk Oates asked Hayes how she would respond to those who say the development would attract “people undesireable to our city.”
“It’s not just people who are addicted or people who have mental health challenges,” said Hayes, who described being approached by a 78-year-old woman who was homeless. “There are lots of people that are homeless; (the housing) is not going to be just for everybody that’s high-need; we try to be supportive of everybody.”
Hayes noted ICCS has been operating supportive housing, shelters and crisis stabilization centres since the early 1980s, including the Hirst House crisis stabilization centre that has been open for 13 years without issue, “just a block and a half away from the Corfield site.”
The Regional District of Nanaimo, in partnership with the City of Parksville and Town of Qualicum Beach, purchased the Corfield Street property for $700,000 in March of 2017. At that time, ICCS was provided a $30,000 grant for a building development study.
On March 9, 2018, B.C.’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Selina Robinson, arrived in Parksville to announce $6.9 million in funding to construct the supportive housing units, with a goal of opening the facility in spring of 2019.
Tuesday’s open house will include city staff and representatives from ICCS, the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness and BC Housing, who will answer questions and accept feedback from visitors. On Monday night, Hayes and McNaughton fielded several questions on how the facility would be run.
McNaughton described the housing units as full-service, independent living units with kitchens.
“It’s their own house, just like everybody here has,” he said. “You pay rent, you have a key to your own door. It’s your home.”
Coun. Oates drew applause from the gallery when he asked if the housing would be for local homeless people or whether Parksville would be importing homeless from other communities.
“Are we getting the bang for our buck in our own back yard or are we taking care of somebody else’s problem?” Oates asked.
Hayes replied that the local cold-weather shelter hosted 101 unique individuals in the past year and that there is a demonstrated need for housing for homeless residents.
“This is for local people,” she said. “Yes, there’s the odd person who’s transient who moves up here on the Island, but it’s not the majority. We desperately need this for local people.”
Powell’s motion to direct staff to begin the statutory process to amend zoning and land-use regulations for 222 Corfield St. included the request that council waive development application fees, development cost charges (DCCs) and building permit fees associated.
The motion passed unanimously, with Coun. Leanne Salter absent.