Orca Place will be home to its first residents in less than three weeks.
The Island Crisis Care Society, alongside Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson and a host of community partners, were at the Parksville supportive housing complex Tuesday where they revealed residents will begin moving in on Aug. 19.
The 52 residents of the 222 Corfield site will move in over a staggered period of time, with five people slated to move in the first day, and two to three people each day following.
Staff training will begin at the facility on Aug. 6. The facility will provide 24/7 staffing with a minimum of two people working in the building at all times.
Each resident will receive individualized support, and be given the choice of what goals they would like to work towards. There is no set requirement for what residents will have to accomplish during their tenure at Orca Place, but all residents must be working towards a customized wellness plan with the help of Orca Place staff.
“It is housing first. We will take people at whatever place they’re at in their lives, but there has to be that willingness to work on a plan,” said Violet Hayes of the ICCS.
Housing first is a strategy that prioritizes getting people who are experiencing homelessness into independent and permanent living, then providing services and support as needed.
“We know that this kind of housing works. We’re not guessing, we’re not relying on someone else. We know that this works,” said Renate Sutherland of the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness.
There were 118 people in total who applied to live in Orca Place.
Sue Lee with ICCS said that they are hopeful that over time, Orca Place will provide an environment that allows its residents to transition into permanent housing. This would allow other vulnerable people in the Parksville-Qualicum Beach area to move into the space.
The facility includes a health services room with a resident doctor, a large kitchen, a dining room, an outdoor area with garden beds and bachelor and one-bedroom suites.
Part of the support systems at Orca Place will be helping residents learn the basics of home care.
Sutherland said that people who are survivors of trauma and have spent much of their life on the streets may not have the knowledge and skills that may be considered normal to many, such as basic cooking and cleaning.
In addition to providing two group meals per day and cleaning of the common space, staff will be available to help residents cook and provide basic care for themselves. It’s part of transitioning people back to living independently.
“All of that support makes them better tenants in market housing. When and if they’re ready to go out into market housing, they’re going to be so much more successful… this is going to be a springboard for many,” said Sutherland.
Malcolmson also stressed the difference between Orca Place and Newcastle Place in Nanaimo.
“The contrast couldn’t be more extreme,” said Malcolmson.
Malcolmson referred to the creation of Newcastle as being born out of a crisis state of homelessness in Nanaimo that could have been prevented with proper planning.
“We ended up with a 300-person homeless encampment that was a crisis in our community,” said Malcolmson.
Rather than being a quick reaction to a state of emergency, Malcolmson says that Orca Place is the result of a four-year period of council, government, NGOs and community support working together to address issues before they get out of hand.
Kirk Oates, former Parksville councillor, was on hand for the announcement. Oates said it makes him feel good to have been part of an initiative that he says will transform and save lives in Parksville.
“I am looking forward to the success that is happening and these people becoming our neighbours and good, productive members of the City of Parksville. It was the right thing to do and I couldn’t be happier to be here today,” said Oates.
For those residents who may be concerned about the effects of supportive housing in their neighbourhood, Hayes says the ICCS has created a community advisory council that starts up in August. It will be composed of five people in the neighbourhood who can act as the representatives of the larger Parksville community.
“We hope that those questions will come in through them and then we’ll be able to address them. It’s a solution-based group that tries to work out solutions for any issues that may come up,” said Hayes.