Describing itself as 'the 911 of the street', the Manna Homeless Society believes the coming winter will be packed with more challenges than it has ever faced.
"It seems that there are less community services to go around to assist the less fortunate and this has put a larger load onto Manna," society founder Robin Campbell said in his most recent report to supporters.
Manna provides the needy of Parksville Qualicum Beach with tents, clothing, footwear — as many items as they can get from generous individuals and companies in the region. Campbell said Manna is seeing an increase in the number of people taking advantage of their hand-outs.
"We are seeing more elderly, women and youth than ever before," said Campbell. "We are seeing a rise in drug and substance abuse, as less services are being provided. We are finding that we have gone from a community that had denied that we have a homeless problem a few years ago to a community that is now trying to catch up and find assistance for the less fortunate."
Campbell said there are many organizations, like churches and service clubs, who have provided help. He also said there needs to be better co-ordination and leadership.
"This is a workable situation which could be fixed, working together as a team to solve this problem," said Campbell. "I am not saying that there are not churches or any of the groups that I have mentioned helping, but they refuse to work together as a team to solve this problem."
Campbell also singled out Mayor Marc Lefebvre.
"We have not seen leadership from the mayor's office stepping up and taking a leadership role in ending the plight of the homeless," said Campbell. "Without their help the less fortunate are doomed in the Oceanside area."
The mayor responded to Campbell's comments on Tuesday.
"An awful lot of people are working on this and my office is providing all kinds of leadership," said Lefebvre.
At time of writing Wednesday morning, there was no word on an extreme weather shelter for the Parksville Qualicum Beach region this winter, as there has been in past years. There's also no word on any kind of permanent shelter with accompanying services, a facility that was the centre of attention with members of the Oceanside Homelessness Task Force one year ago.
A housing/homeless shelter proposal submitted by the local task force to B.C. Housing in August didn't meet the standard and needs to be re-worked, MLA Michelle Stilwell said in the summer.
The task force received a $10,000 gaming grant from the provincial government in April to develop a plan. Task force officials said in August there was nothing in that plan that hasn't been discussed for months or years — no drawings, budget or costing info. They also couldn't detail exactly how that $10,000 was spent.
Stilwell confirmed in the summer the submission was not what she expected. In fact, she said she wasn't even told the task force was going to submit an application for funding to B.C. Housing.
"Their application was based on their vision, not a feasibility study," Stilwell told The NEWS in August. "Maybe there was some misunderstanding on what a feasibility study looks like, I'm not sure. Certainly putting that proposal to B.C. Housing is not going to be enough to solidify a solution."
Sarah Poole, who left the employ of the task force and the Society of Organized Services in August to further her education, told The NEWS before she left that the task force was waiting for the city to fulfil a commitment it made in the spring to provide land for a facility.
Poole and task force co-chair Violet Hayes said in August that without the land from the city, it's not possible to provide B.C. Housing with any specifics about any future building.
The task force has said publicly it wants to provide a facility with 30 housing units, 10-20 shelter beds, public laundry and shower, drop-in centre, kitchen facilities, garden space and offices for support staff and other related services.
Since Manna Society members started helping the homeless of the region in 2011, the number of items they have given to the needy has increased dramatically. For example, the society provided 101 sleeping bags in 2011 and then 280 in 2015. They gave out 1,247 bags of groceries in 2011 and 4,442 in 2015.
Campbell has also put out a call for people to donate items for this fall/winter.
"We need large and extra large warm winter coats," he said. "The reason we would like large and extra large is due to the fact our clients layer their clothing. We are looking for good rain gear and rubber boots. We need a good supply of gloves and warm socks. We need men and woman's under clothing. We need umbrellas, hand warmers, foot warmers and scarfs. We need good, quality, small, two-man tents. Then we need everything else to survive in these very cold nights and damp climate until summer comes around again."
You can learn more about Manna, including contact information and how to donate, on its website (www.mannahs.com). You can also call Campbell at 250-248-0845.