Community advocates assisting folks who are homeless are overjoyed a cold weather shelter has been established in the city of Parksville on Vancouver Island.

“It’s just amazing,” said Rev. Christine Muise from OHEART — the Oceanside Homelessness Ecumenical Advocacy Response Team — which is running the new shelter.

“It was definitely all boots on the ground last week,” Muise said of the quick, collaborative effort by a number of stakeholders to establish the shelter within a five-day window.

BC Housing announced Friday the eight-bed shelter St. Edmund's Anglican Church will run nightly until the end of the winter season on March 31.

The shelter, funded by the province, will provide a much-needed warm, safe and secure place to sleep for people who are experiencing homelessness in the community, BC Housing spokesperson Laura Mathews said in an email.

“It will provide guests with a clean bed, food, access to a washroom and will ensure people are following pandemic health guidelines, including physical distancing,” Mathews said.

OHEART and other community agencies have been calling for a cold weather shelter in Parksville or Qualicum Beach since last March when the previous one at St. Anne’s church was closed because the building wasn’t geared to meet COVID-19 protocols.

Rev. Christine Muise, of OHEART, said a collaborative effort to set up a new cold weather shelter in Parksville at a local church moved very quickly. File photo

The new initiative got rolling in earnest on the Family Day long weekend with the help of Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, Parksville-Qualicum MLA Adam Walker, BC Housing, the provincial public health service and the Anglican Diocese of Islands and Inlets, said Muise.

“It’s pretty exciting that from Sunday to Thursday we went from having no cold weather shelter to one being up and running,” said Rev. Christine Muise, co-founder of OHEART, of the opening of a long-awaited homeless shelter in Parksville.

“It’s pretty exciting that from Sunday to Thursday we went from having no cold weather shelter to one being up and running,” she said.

BC Housing had already funded the establishment of 16 temporary beds at a Parksville hotel to shelter vulnerable individuals and prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Muise.

But a low-barrier cold weather shelter is still needed to help people who find themselves out in the cold, she added.

“The COVID-19 response hotel is not a nightly arrangement,” Muise said.

“We have guests that have been there with us since March of last year, so the turnover or the opportunity to help people that are still living rough is limited.”

Qualicum Beach town council recently passed a motion to identify a location for a temporary warming centre or cold weather shelter for up to 15 people.

The council is expected to vote at its Wednesday meeting about whether to move ahead to locate the facility on land at the Qualicum Beach Airport.

The new temporary shelter in Parksville is a good step to establish more permanent resources for the people who are homeless in the region, said Muise.

“This will allow us to get things off the ground for the folks that have been living rough and provide them with nurturance, care and hope,” she said.

“In the conversations we’ve been having with local, federal and provincial governments, we’ve certainly been discussing what are the next steps to create more long-term permanent structures.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer