Qualicum Beach held a public information session regarding a grant proposal for temporary dry recovery housing units at 747 Jones Street. The project would provide 10 units for the Oceanside homeless population as part of a COVID response grant from the provincial government.
“At a time where most of us are scared to go into a room with other people in case we catch COVID, we have a group of people that live in our community, around 200, as we have estimated, who are literally living on top of each other in a lot of ways,” said Sharon Welch, executive director of Forward House Community Society.
The Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness will oversee the project and Forward House will lead operations, according to the town.
The units can be easily moved and will provide accommodation for people who want to overcome addiction, the town said. Welch said clients will be referred by outreach workers and will be vetted to ensure people who respect and take pride in the facility will be housed.
“If we can get them all in one place, it is so much easier for us as agencies to be able to go to one site and see ten people at once than it is to have to travel here and there and everywhere to see those same ten people,” she said.
The project has a nine month timeline — Welch said some clients may stay the length of the project and some may come and go as needed. The dry recovery units can help people experiencing homelessness transition into long-term living arrangements. She said her team has been able to help at least 50 people find market housing in the past five years, despite a near zero per cent availability rate.
“We know that we can successfully find housing for people. It is so much easier to find that housing if the person is sober,” Welch said.
The town wants to put the temporary housing in the location which has been designated for a new public works yard, which will require clearing one to two hectares of parkland and rerouting about 260 metres of public trails.
“This cleared area was going to be cleared anyway for the expansion of our parks and public works yard and thus what we are doing is minimizing the impact footprint by putting this temporary site here,” said Daniel Sailland, chief administrative officer.
Many residents at the April 29 meeting questioned the location, expressed concern over tree removal and questioned the town’s lack of public consultation before applying for the provincial grant.
Sailland said the urgency of the grant application made it challenging for the town to properly consult the public, as it had to bring partners together to work on the proposal. The Regional District of Nanaimo, City of Parksville, OHEART and the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness are partnered with Qualicum Beach for the project.
The town previously hoped to use land at the airport for a cold weather shelter, but it was denied by BC Housing due to lack of services in the area. BC Housing is not a part of the project on Jones Street — the grant awaiting approval is part of COVID-19 relief and is only temporary.
“The goal is not to create a cold weather shelter, the goal is to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our community are safe from COVID and that the rest of our community is safe from COVID,” said Parksville/Qualicum MLA Adam Walker.
The town said it will engage in more public consultation to inform decisions on the final project.