The only homeless shelter in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area has closed due to COVID-19 concerns, leaving Rev. Christine Muise pleading for government help.
The area had been in shelter limbo for months, finally finding a cold-weather shelter solution in December 2019 – the ‘Sanctuary Sleep’ at St. Anne’s Church. Muise said they’ve been busy ever since and the stability of the shelter has helped people using it to get into treatment programs.
St. Anne’s was a last-minute solution to a pressing problem — it was the middle of winter and there was nowhere for people experiencing homelessness to go, so Muise decided to step up. But the church, at 125 years old, doesn’t have all the amenities required for it to stay open amid the COVID-19 outbreak — no running water amid tight quarters.
Muise said telling the 18 guests was “dreadful.”
The next two nights, five people slept outside the doors of the church, with nowhere else to go.
“I bawled, it was heartbreaking,” she said. “To be breaking the news to them, you’re already dealing with people who have absolutely nothing, and you’re telling them that you can no longer help them, it’s a cruel place to be.”
Muise said from a public health perspective, helping people affected by homelessness is a necessary step to reducing the spread of the virus. She said people without homes can’t easily self-isolate, it’s harder for them to routinely wash their hands and they can have underlying health conditions.
The closure is especially troubling for Muise since she felt like St. Anne’s had filled a gap that had been needed in the community.
In the spring of 2019, the City of Parksville secured full control over the use of what is now supportive housing complex Orca Place, by purchasing it for $700,000 and repaying a $492,400 grant-in-aid to the Regional District of Nanaimo. With the purchase, the housing facility no longer required an eight-bed cold-weather shelter, a requirement of the RDN.
Muise put out a message asking the following:
“If a facility were to be opened or even a motel procured, where staff and guests were able to follow protocols for safety, where people had the emotional support and connection they need to remain stable, then our whole community (Qualicum First Nation, Snaw-Naw-As First Nation, City of Parksville, Town of Qualicum, Regional District of Nanaimo),” she wrote. “I am asking for continued help beyond one month for our two guests staying at the hotel.”
Muise said she’s also thinking of the families and people who are at risk of homelessness in the area.
“I am asking for preparation for all the families for whom we know live ‘in poverty’ who are going to be a much more visible population in the coming days, weeks and months.”
So far, people running St. Anne’s have been able to get two seniors who were staying at the church hotel rooms paid for by BC Housing.