PARKSVILLE — Community concern is increasing in Parksville as a $6.9 million, 49-unit supportive housing project gets closer to reality.
Council chambers overflowed and a vocal crowd made their opinions known throughout a nearly two-hour discussion on the housing last week.
NanaimoNewsNOW has sifted through community opinion and questions from councillors to present as much information about the project as possible.
What impact will this facility have on Parksville’s downtown and the tourism industry?
Former mayor Chris Burger, speaking to affiliated radio station 88.5 The Beach, said he’s concerned the image of Parksville will change dramatically.
“It’s going to take our town, which is a tourist destination, and really centre it around being a transient destination, which is a wrong approach.”
During the council meeting, current mayor Marc Lefebvre said he hasn’t heard concerns from Parksville’s tourism association about the housing. His statement was met with groans and loud sighs from the gallery audience.
Craig Crawford, vice president of BC Housing, added the housing is designed to help the homeless who already exist in Parksville and can be seen downtown and along the beach.
“I put forth that tourists and communities alike would find this community a better place if those people who are currently homeless now are safely housed.”
Mayor Lefebvre asked if the homelessness problem will go away if councillors don’t do anything.
“No, it’ll get worse,” Crawford replied.
Why is the housing so close to downtown?
Placing the facility at 222 Corfield St. South, a few blocks from downtown Parksville, drew significant ire from opponents.
“One of the things (the homeless) really require is having some privacy and some space,” vocal opponent Adam Fras previously told NanaimoNewsNOW. “The downtown location doesn’t provide that for them. They don’t have a place where they can open their windows and not be seen.”
Burger agreed, saying “Sticking them all into a building we’ll call ‘the building where the homeless are” isn’t going to help anyone.”
The Oceanside Homelessness Task Force disagreed, arguing having a central location is critical to helping the homeless.
“People experiencing homelessness are already a part of our community…This is the first step in providing safe and supportive housing for those currently staying on the streets or in shelters,” the organization said in a fact sheet.
Opponents also said the site is too close to houses, a seniors care facility and the Jensen Greenway Trail currently under construction.
Will this be a free apartment for the homeless to use and get high in?
A website created by Fras called it “wet supportive housing that allows for alcohol and unmonitored drug use…They do not offer drug treatment or medical staff.”
Sharon Welch, co-chair of the Oceanside Homelessness Task Force, confirmed people will be able to drink and use drugs in their apartments, just like any other private residence.
“Hopefully this is a stepping stone for them to really improve their lives and be drug free. We’re not just putting a roof over someones head and leaving them alone. We’re actually working with them to develop skills and help them improve their lives.”
There will be two staff on hand at all times, a day manager, maintenance worked and meal program supervisor, as well as staff from community organizations involved int he supportive aspect of the housing project.
Those living at the facility will pay rent for their apartments and sign contracts and agreements to stay there.
Can Parksville handle this type of housing?
Burger said he doubted there was enough infrastructure in place to maintain the facility and stop the situation from devolving into chaos.
“We don’t even have our own police force. We’re not a big urban city, we’re a tiny little hamlet. I think it’s going to end up exacerbating an already bad situation and it’s just going to really put us back.”
Violet Hayes, executive director of the Island Crisis Care Society who will run the housing site, said community supports are already working together on the issue.
Program partners include the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Salvation Army and the Society of Organized Services.
Is this housing project a done deal?
Parksville councillors passed the first and second reading of a zoning amendment bylaw at their meeting on May 7.
A motion for a referendum on the issue was introduced but voted down.
A public hearing is the next step of the development. It’s scheduled for Tuesday, June 19 at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre.