Homeless people in Parksville will no longer be sleeping in a graveyard.
The majority of people who were staying at the graveyard near St. Anne’s church have been moved to hotel rooms provided by BC Housing.
A month after the only shelter in the area closed due to COVID-19 concerns and with no news of an alternative on the horizon, the community group OHEART got some tents together last week as a temporary solution. They were set up on the grounds of St. Anne’s, the location of the closed shelter. However, Rev. Christine Muise said the blowback from them setting up the camp on the old graveyard was significant.
People camped on the property for two nights before the hotel rooms were offered up and the decision was made to pull back from the site.
Muise is a founding member of OHEART, the group that worked with BC Housing to originally find a shelter solution.
“If we have folks and we know where they are and we know how they are, then we’re far more able to assist them than if they’re scattered and hiding all over town,” she said. “That’s the bigger public health side of things, and then we realized we couldn’t keep them safe on-site.”
Muise said people were “understandably upset” about the idea of people camping on the graveyard.
”At no point was a guest staying on a ‘grave’ as we had carefully designated spots on an access road,” said Muise in a press release. “Given the reaction and concern of families and friends of the parish and beyond, we realized that we could no longer offer this location as a possibility.”
Muise said five people and one peer worker camped at St. Anne’s for the two nights. Four of them have been put in hotel rooms.
“We know there’s at least 10 more that are living rough within the city, I guess you would say,” she said. “Those are the 30 people we’re dealing with because there’s also people that are being housed in another location… that’s 20 people.”
Muise said it’s a bigger picture than the people who stayed at the shelter. She said there are 80 to 100 people outside of the Parksville Qualicum Beach area limits who are living “relatively rough.” She also points to people who might have been barely making it before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Muise said the 10 new hotel rooms represent a good step and she’s waiting for news of a staffed shelter solution for the area.
“I think it materialized because there became pressure from all sides,” she said. “We all realized that something needs to happen and it’s in much bigger hands than what a small group of a church can do. We’ve known that all along.”