Homeless set up camp in Parksville cemetery in response to COVID-19 

Homeless set up camp in Parksville cemetery in response to COVID-19 
WatchA Parksville church has opened its cemetery for the homeless to camp in so they will have a safe place to social distance and receive meals through COVID-19. As Skye Ryan reports, it's a stopgap, after the tiny church on-site that offered a cold-weather shelter was forced to closed its doors due to COVID-19. 

Giles Bennett set up camp in the most unusual place of his life Wednesday: Parksville church cemetery.

The cemetery has tombstones dating back to the 1800s. Yet the homeless man said the idea wasn’t half as spooky as what he’s seen on the streets.

“There’s some back alleys that are definitely a lot scarier than this,” said Bennett, a homeless Parksville resident.

The homeless have arrived after an invitation from the pastor of Parksville’s St. Anne’s Church. The historic church, which had been serving as an emergency shelter to 18 homeless people a night, was forced to close due to COVID-19 concerns on March 17.

“They would come in and have something to eat and then the mattresses would go between each of the pews,” said Rev. Christine Muise of St. Anne’s Church.

The oldest log cabin church on Vancouver Island couldn’t accommodate social distancing and there was no running water for hand-washing to protect against COVID-19.

So the church got approval to set up tents and offer meals at its cemetery on the same grounds, starting April 21.

The church ensures physical distance between tents and have marked off more green spaces between tombstones where an additional 12 homeless will soon be moving in.

“I mean it’s not ideal,” said Muise.

“And we’re really hoping that this is very, very temporary, that as we work with all agencies and all levels of government we’re able to find something but for today, it’s all that there is.”

“I support this,” said Manna Homeless Society’s cofounder Robin Campbell.

“Imagine if we have someone sick in the bushes and we don’t know about it, so this way we know they’re there.”

And unlike many improvised homeless camps during COVID-19, there’s been no complaints from the neighbours.

On Wednesday new donations of toilet paper and fresh sleeping bags arrived from Manna Homeless Society.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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