The only extreme weather shelter open in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region has closed its doors after two days.
In a release from BC Housing, Parksville’s Knox United Church followed the Oceanside Community Church as the second cold-weather shelter in the area and was intended to be operational from Jan. 3 until Jan. 10.
According to Don Emerson, the current chair of council for Knox United, the shelter was operational on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4, but will not continue over safety concerns.
“We ran into a few problems which basically meant we had to shut the shelter down. That decision was made at an executive meeting that we had yesterday (Jan. 5), for the safety and well-being of various tenants in the building,” said Emerson, adding the shelter closed 30 minutes before its daycare opened so that it could be cleared out before the children arrived.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the folks experiencing homelessness – which is one issue in itself – have other severe issues to deal with. And those issues were basically coming to the floor and we just couldn’t jeopardize our staff and the staff of the daycare.”
Attendance at the Knox shelter fluctuated on both days, Emerson said, with eight or nine people attending on Jan. 3, and only three on Jan. 4.
“It was a difficult decision – obviously with the climate the way it is right now – but we really didn’t have an option… You hate to close the door on anybody when the weather is like what it is,” he said.
Both the Knox United and Oceanside Community churches were arranged as shelters through a partnership with BC Housing and the Oceanside Homeless Ecumenical Advocacy Response Team Society (OHEARTS).
“We really appreciate the partnership of the churches in helping us to bring people in during the cold,” said Sherry Thompson, chair of OHEARTS. “We had as many as a dozen people (between the two shelters) in out of the cold at night. That was a big plus. It was done on very short notice… We worked together and it popped up really quickly.”
Thompson said the group is also looking for permanent solutions longterm so don’t have to rely on pop-up emergency shelters. They are still working within the community to try and find alternative locations between now and the end of March.
She continued to say that beyond a cold-weather shelter, there is also a great need for a warming centre during the day.
Those interested in assisting OHEARTS can reach Thompson via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.