Info sessions for Parksville supportive-housing project that has faced opposition

B.C. Housing is staging six community information sessions next week before the first tenants move into new supportive housing in Parksville, where the project has faced stiff opposition and plenty of community concern.

Heidi Hartman, B.C. Housing’s regional director for Vancouver Island, said Parksville’s facility is different from two supportive housing projects that opened in Nanaimo several months ago, where there have been multiple complaints from nearby residents and a fire at one site.

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Parksville’s project is permanent, not temporary housing as in Nanaimo where workforce housing was set up in response to a crisis, she said.

Nanaimo’s housing was set up at the time a tent city of about 300 people was shut down.

B.C. Housing is working with contractor Island Crisis Care Society on the Parksville project, called Orca Place.

A lot of time has been spent with community partners to develop a thoughtful process for deciding who will move in, Hartman said.

“We want to make sure that the services in the housing meet the needs of the individuals who will be moving in there.”

Tenants might find work, connect with family and move on into market housing and leave Orca Place. Or they may need continuing support and remain as long as they need to, she said. “It’s really based on the individual and what their needs are.”

Orca Place at 222 Corfield St. South will start taking the first of 52 tenants in July. The modular facility cost $6.9 million and was built for the province to provide shelter and services to homeless citizens.

There will be one entry to Orca Place, where staff are on duty around the clock and will monitor who is coming and going, Hartman said.

Security cameras inside and out, security lighting, a fob entry system and fencing are part of the project.

Nearby residents and other citizens are worried about what this kind of facility will mean to their community. One concern is that tenants will be allowed to use drugs in their rooms.

Concerns about its implications led Victoria-based Berwick Retirement Communities to announce this month that it is scrapping a planned $52-million seniors-residence project nearby.

Berwick founder Gordon Denford said Orca Place, catering to drug-addicted and mentally ill tenants, is incompatible with what would have been a 188-unit residence, with a daycare.

Hartman said that similar permanent supportive housing projects have been introduced in Port Alberni and Courtenay and are running smoothly.

An advisory committee to help the facility fit into the community is being set up.

As well, two community information sessions per day are planned for next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Parksville.

Information is at letstalkhousingbc.ca/parksville. Anyone wanting to attend must register in advance. Send an email to communityrelations@bchousing.org, with preferred dates.

“We just want to get more of the information out there about what supportive housing is and how it can integrate so well into the community, and the differences really that it makes in the lives of individuals who have experienced homelessness,” Hartman said.

Tenants will receive two meals per day and be connected with local services, such as health care and detox if they are ready for that step, she said.

Asked about how to alleviate community concerns, Hartman said: “There isn’t an easy answer. Definitely getting the education out there, sharing the information — certainly the community advisory committees are really helpful because they are representative of individuals in the neighbourhood, [and] there may be a business owner, the health authority is a member, the RCMP.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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