An overflow crowd jammed the room at The Bayside on Tuesday night, standing room only.
It remains to be seen if the interest in issues around homelessness carries that momentum outside that room and turns into something tangible.
Many pieces seem to be in place. The Homelessness Task Force has good leadership and some focus. A strategy — following the principles of a program called Housing First — is in place. It’s not new and has proven successful in other communities.
There are team leaders with impressive resumes that include relevant degrees and years of experience. From the outside at least, these leaders do not look like people who are carving out a niche so they can draw a paycheque. They do not talk like people who are interested in dragging this issue through more and more studies and meetings and discussions with ‘stakeholders’.
These leaders know the latest in the fight against homelessness, both the theories and the boots-on-the-ground realities. They are face-to-face with clients most every day. They are acutely aware of the challenges faced by those who need shelter or are one more turn of bad luck/bad decision from living on the street.
The 150 people who jammed that room Tuesday night were from all walks of life. There were business owners, teenagers and residents of all ages and backgrounds. There were also some local politicians at the back of the room and representatives of both our MLA and MP.
The consensus? Parksville Qualicum Beach has most of the pieces in place for a shelter that would not only keep people safe, warm and dry, but help them move forward, possibly get many off the treadmill of a meagre taxpayer-funded existence.
The people in that room Tuesday and the experts who are in place cannot really do what is left to be done. It’s bricks and mortar time. It’s time for all levels of government to step in and provide a place — with operating funds — where these good people can do their good work.
It’s time to get specific. What about the old Parksville Elementary School? What about the number of premises vacated by Island Health when so many services were amalgamated at the Oceanside Health Centre?
It’s up to the people in that room Tuesday night to keep the pressure on government. It’s also up to them to fight NIMBY-ism on locations with facts.
But really, it’s time for mayors, regional district directors, MLA Michelle Stilwell and MP Gord Johns to come up with funding for a facility and operating costs. The people and the social services providers have done their part and are ready for the next step.
— Editorial by John Harding