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Vancouver Island cemetery becomes homeless camp amid COVID-19 concerns

Vancouver Island homeless camp out in church graveyard
WATCH: Vancouver Island homeless camp out in church graveyard

A Vancouver Island cemetery has become an unlikely campsite, as the province’s COVID-19 crisis hits the local homeless population.

About 18 people have set up tents in the graveyard between Parskville’s St. Anne’s and St. Edmund’s churches.

READ MORE: Concern for Downtown Eastside after U.S. tests find asymptomatic COVID-19 outbreaks among homeless

Rev. Christine Muise said the unusual arrangement came about mid-March when homeless advocates realized a temporary shelter in St. Anne’s was no longer safe during the pandemic.

“Most of our staff were [put] at risk and then we had our guests we couldn’t physically distance, we couldn’t do the proper hygiene as it has no proper running water,” she said.
Boston COVID-19 test results cause for concern on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside
Boston COVID-19 test results cause for concern on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Muise said temporary housing was arranged in several local motels, but only for a month. The clock on that arrangement ran down this week.

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“We’re hopeful that a more permanent solution for this COVID emergency will unfold,” she said.

READ MORE: Homeless activists arrested after occupying Vancouver elementary school over COVID-19

While some neighbours Global News spoke with had no problem with the temporary arrangement, Parksville Mayor Ed Mayne was less pleased.

“If I had somebody who was buried in the graveyard, I’d be a little bit concerned,” he said.

“I understand that the people aren’t camping on the graves, per se, but they are in the vicinity, and there’s people walking around and on top and so on.”

Mayne said he’d prefer to see the campers set up in nearby Rathtrevor Provincial Park, which has bathroom and shower facilities, or in one of the local shuttered schools.

Victoria mayor suggests ‘seizing’ vacated hotel rooms to house B.C. homeless
Victoria mayor suggests ‘seizing’ vacated hotel rooms to house B.C. homeless

He also called on more support for the homeless from the provincial government.

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The province is expected to make an announcement on additional supports for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic later this week.

READ MORE: Advocates urge action as COVID-19 reported in Downtown Eastside

In the meantime, Muise said she hasn’t been hearing much negativity from the neighbours.

“The pushback really is [that] we know there’s solutions out there,” she said.

“There’s gotta be a space somewhere in this whole region that could be a safe place for physical distancing, proper hygiene … this isn’t appropriate. “