Homeless people on the mid-Island say they’re being left out in the cold, literally, because Oceanside communities don’t have a dedicated place to stay warm.
Helen Hiltunen is relying on people for a warm place to sleep at night but during the day, she’s often cold. She lives in the Oceanside area, encompassing Parksville and Qualicum Beach, which has no cold weather shelters or warming centres.
“It sucks. It sucks big time. I’m cold all the time and now I have pneumonia,” said Hiltunen, who was released from the hospital last week but still requires medication for her pneumonia.
Unlike other Vancouver Island communities of its size, neither Parksville nor Qualicum Beach has publicly taken any initiative to open an extreme weather shelter or warming centre this season despite winter weather and freezing temperatures.
A homeless person huddles in a sleeping bag on the steps of a modular building to keep warm in the Oceanside community of Parksville. Courtesy: Leona Matte
“Please, please do something. People are going to die. They’re going to die out here,” said Hiltunen.
“I’m more than shocked. I’m disgusted and horrified because these are people out here and they’re dying,” said Karen Corfe, who says many of her friends are currently homeless.
Mayor Teunis Westbroek says Qualicum Beach Town Council has about $3,500 set aside for an overnight shelter or warming centre but they’re having trouble finding partners, a location and staffing.
The one place people can warm up is during a meal at the Salvation Army in Parksville. A volunteer says it’s selfish that neither Qualicum Beach nor Parksville have a warming centre.
“There is no shelter in either one of them and there are definitely a lot of homeless people, and so it is a responsibility, I think, of the local governments to provide something to the poorest or the most marginalized of the population,” said Leona Matte.
Matte says she’s seen a lot of people out in the cold during the recent snow storms.
“The people who live in Qualicum and Parksville are mostly wealthy retirees,” she said.
“Not all of them but a good portion of them are wealthier people, middle class at least to higher income and surely they have the money to put some aside in their taxes. I mean there needs to be a political will to set something up to ask them for it.”
Hiltunen says it’s difficult to see a way to get permanent housing in Oceanside when current rental rates are well outside her reach.
Hiltunen says she was recently staying in a van she owns but the radiator block cracked because it was filled with water.