With a March 31 deadline quickly approaching, residents and staff at Parksville’s VIP Motel temporary housing facility are concerned about where people will go.
Since November 2021, the property has operated as a temporary supportive housing facility under a partnership between Oceanside Homelessness Ecumenical Advocacy Response Team Society (OHEARTS) and BC Housing.
In September 2022, the City of Parksville issued a compliance agreement for BC Housing to bring the VIP Motel property (414 Island Highway West) into zoning compliance and find suitable alternative housing options within 180 days.
That agreement includes a commitment from BC Housing to provide ongoing social supports to individuals during the transition.
“Throwing all the people we have here on the street is ludicrous,” said Kelly Morris.
Morris works as a recovery coach and peer support worker at the facility, also known as Ocean Place.
Morris worries about what will happen to elderly residents and other residents who are in recovery from substance use or dealing with mental health issues. She said the facility, which has 23 rooms, is close to capacity.
“When you’re bringing people that are suffering from mental illness and drug addiction, and being out there for so long, they don’t know how to come in out of the cold and live a normal productive life in one night,” Morris said. “It takes time to learn structure.”
Resident Helen Hiltunen, 66, said she does not know what she can do if the facility is closed down.
“I’d be devastated if I have to go out because where am I going to go? What am I going to do?” she said. “I just came in from being out there and I froze. It was just me and my dog and I couldn’t go get warm anywhere because I had a dog, so I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. I was kicked off park benches, I was kicked off sidewalks.”
Hiltunen said she is grateful for the hope, stability and happiness she has found at Ocean Place, which allows residents to have a pet. She has a 10-year-old dog named Molly.
“I can’t afford to be anywhere else. I have no vehicle. My vehicles have died and been impounded,” she said. “It’s the worst place to be, is out in the street because there’s nowhere to go.”
In an emailed statement, BC Housing said the shelter spaces at Ocean Place were a temporary response to support people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Oct. 5, BC Housing and the City of Parksville agreed to close the shelter on March 31, 2023.
“BC Housing is actively working with community partners to ensure that no shelter guest is left without housing. Identifying locations for shelters and permanent affordable housing is a shared responsibility between municipalities and the province. Discussions about alternative sites are ongoing. We will share an update with shelter guests and the community as soon as more information is available,” the statement said.
BC Housing is working with the provincial government and partners on comprehensive solutions to address root causes of homelessness and its many challenges, according to the statement.
“BC Housing and the Province recognize that shelters are not a long-term solution to homelessness, which is why we have opened 52 supportive homes in Parksville since 2018 and are working to provide a range of housing options and supports,” the statement said.
The City of Parksville confirmed the temporary use permit with BC Housing will expire on March 31.Many of the residents are elderly, in palliative care, or have medical conditions which require ongoing supports from staff.
“There’s one fellow right now that we have who’s got a wound on his leg,” said support worker Monika Janus. “So we would bring him to Oceanside [Health Centre] for his wound clinic appointments and make sure that he follows up with that because it’s very important.”
Staff help residents with things like paperwork, connecting them with resources and transportation to appointments.
Another resident, who lost his driver’s licence after suffering a brain hemorrhage, has an appointment coming up to take a medical test and driver’s test to regain his licence. Staff will take him to Comox, where he can complete his testing.
“We work with addictions, we work with paranoid schizophrenics, we work with people that are traumatized,” said Morris. “We have trauma counselling here. We have everything here they need.”
She added she would like to see Ocean Place stay open until supportive housing can be built in the area.
“Why are we putting elders on our street? We can do better than this,” Morris said. “When people get old do they want to see this happen for their loved ones? Being tossed out on the street because they can’t afford he cost of living.”