Rev. Christine Muise at St. Anne’s Church on Jan. 8 in Parksville. (Cloe Logan photo)

COVID-19: Shelter-seeking B.C. homeless group resorts to sleeping in graveyard

People to camp near Parksville church at night as group looks for assistance

A group of homeless people in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area are set to begin camping in a graveyard.

As of Tuesday (April 21), 18 people affected by homelessness will camp at night at the graveyard between St. Anne’s and St. Edmund’s church in Parksville — not far from where many of them slept for months.

St. Anne’s church was the sole shelter in the area until it was closed down in mid-March due to COVID-19 concerns. After the shelter closed, five people slept outside the doors of the church, having nowhere else to go.

Now, it’s been almost a month without a shelter, and Rev. Christine Muise said OHEART decided the graveyard could work as a temporary measure. Some people have been put up in hotels, provided by BC Housing, but Muise said that isn’t an option that works for everyone — many need a staffed shelter, like they had before.

Muise is a founding member of OHEART, the group that worked with BC Housing to originally find a shelter solution, which consisted of nine Parksville Qualicum Beach area churches that came together to find an answer. She’s asking for help from the municipal and provincial governments, as well as BC Housing.

“Our hope is that we’re just doing this for a short time and in the long term there is a space being created,” she said. “Because that’s what they agreed to do.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: No clear timeline for replacement shelter solution in Parksville Qualicum Beach area

READ MORE: ‘I bawled, it was heartbreaking’: Parksville shelter forced to close due to COVID-19 concerns

READ MORE: How Parksville’s St. Anne’s became a place homeless people would actually go

At a Regional District of Nanaimo meeting on March 25, the board passed a motion that read:

“The RDN board directs RDN staff to communicate and work with the provincial government, BC Housing, Oceanside Heart and the municipal CAOs of Oceanside in an effort to replace the St. Anne’s Assisi shelter for Oceanside during this provincial state of emergency due to COVID-19.”

Ian Thorpe, RDN board chairman, was not able to comment on Tuesday.

”The chair has advised that the information is still “in camera” and he is not able to comment on it,” read an email from Christina Gray, communications co-ordinator for the RDN.

The move to start using the graveyard comes after a letter was sent by OHEART and The Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness (OTFH) to BC Housing and Island Health, recommending they do more to help people affected by homelessness in the area.

Specifically, they recommended the bodies create a co-ordinated emergency COVID-19 transmission prevention and isolation plan for affected individuals.

Susanna Newton, SOS executive director and co-chair of OTFH, said it’s a pressing problem in the area.

“We know that population hasn’t left, they’re still here,” she said. “So, what are the best things that should be in place to support that population and obviously keep them safe? And keep our community safe because I’m sure everybody recognizes that if they get sick and they’re in our communities then that’s a serious issue.”

They’ve made the following recommendations, among others, in their letter:

• Hotel rooms with food and supply delivery;

• A shelter space with food, water and sanitation;

• Assisting those who are sheltering in place with additional service supply of food, water, garbage removal and camping supplies (toilets) and medications delivered via Mid Island Peer Support;

• A centralized food production and distribution model for shelters and housing providers.

cloe.logan@pqbnews.com

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