The Manna Homeless Society was issued a cease and desist order from the City of Parksville to stop giving out food and medical services on city-owned property.
For the past 13 years, Manna has provided regular Saturday morning meals for the city’s less-fortunate, and during the past year the society has added a community care mobile, offering health and disease services.
The society has operated from a parking lot on Jensen Avenue West, next to city hall.
Manna director and co-founder Robin Campbell said the location is ideal for reaching vulnerable individuals because it is next to a grassy lot frequently accommodated by homeless campers.
Campbell said he doesn’t exactly know why Manna received the order from the city, but he believes it has to do with misinformation.
“I think people are saying that we’re giving out stuff that we’re not giving out,” Campbell said. “We need to share the truth with them.”
Campbell believes the city is under the impression that Manna’s services are adding to a mess at the Jensen Avenue lot where homeless are camping.
“If that little tent city hadn’t popped up, this definitely wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “We always clean up, we always take extra big heavy duty bags and do an exceptional cleanup. We’re good citizens, we go around and clean up other areas where people have been.”
Debbie Comis, City of Parksville CAO, said the cease and desist letter was issued to Manna on behalf of mayor Ed Mayne after council received numerous complaints about the condition of the Jensen Avenue lot, after Manna provided their services.
“My understanding is [Manna] would lay out bags of food, which is great, but also bikes, tents, tarps and clothing and basically people would pick through it, take what they wanted, and just basically leave what was left and Manna didn’t pick up and take with them what was left over,” Comis said. “It ended up being really unsightly. We were asked to find a way to make sure it didn’t happen again.”
Comis said the city has hired an outside hazmat contractor to clean up the site twice a week.
“Between the cost and the mess it was making, council, through the mayor, wanted something done about it so we basically wrote [Manna] a letter and told them that they were to cease and desist,” Comis said. “We had been turning a blind eye to it for quite some time and so we just enforced the legislation that we have that prohibits littering, and the property is not zoned for that particular purpose.”
Manna’s Saturday service only gives out four small food items, Campbell said, and doesn’t provide individuals with tents, needles or other items that have been found scattered around the tent city area.
“We can show them our vehicles and what we’re giving out. We’re an easy target because the less-fortunate is a messy thing sometimes,” Campbell said. “We’ve been [providing food] for 13 years and all of a sudden tent city pops up on the corner and all of a sudden it’s Manna’s fault,” Campbell said.
Campbell said the homeless didn’t go hungry last Saturday without the regular Manna service, thanks to church groups and volunteers bringing them food.
“People were very upset,” Campbell said. “We were trying to keep them calm.”
He has requested to sit down with Mayne to find out exactly why Manna was asked to discontinue their service.
“I can’t imagine that getting rid of Manna is going to solve the problem, [the city] has just been misinformed,” Campbell said. “We’re trying to be part of the solution, we’re trying to make it a safe community.”
Campbell hopes to have the situation sorted out this week so Manna can operate as usual on Saturday.
“We’ve had a really good relationship with [the city] for all these years, why all of a sudden? I don’t know what they think until I talk to them,” Campbell said. “It’s just frustrating right now.”
The City of Parksville allows individuals to camp on city property from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m.
“Our bylaw officers do daily patrols and make sure people pack up by 9 a.m.,” Comis said.
Comis added that often homeless individuals will take down their tents after a bylaw officer directs them to, only to set it back up after the officer leaves the site.
“It’s a bit of a never-ending circle,” she said.