A group of residents at Parksville’s Orca Place want to do their part to make the city a better place to live.
It’s why Rod Nall helped get the Orca Place ‘clean team’ off the ground, with a collection of people living in the supportive housing residence dedicated to cleaning up garbage on the streets of Parksville. When the idea was brought up by a staff member, he went around and recruited other residents to join the team.
The group has started meeting outside Orca Place in bright yellow-and-orange vests before picking up trash in their neighbourhood. It’s on a volunteer basis and has been a big success, according to staff, since starting up in late November.
The 57-year-old Nall, one of the first people to move into Orca Place, said the team is the product of him wanting to help his community. A desire to change the opinions of some people in Parksville Qualicum Beach, who he says judge low-income residents and people affected by homelessness or addiction, was also a big part of it for Nall.
“Well, it’s like we’re all not needle-popping junkie thieves that they think we are,” he said. “I’m sorry, you want to know? I screwed up in life, yeah. I wouldn’t be here.”
The idea for a clean team stems from similar programs on Vancouver Island and across Canada said Lisa Clason, program director at Orca Place. She said once Nall caught wind of the idea, he was passionate about the opportunity for change.
“So I had bought six high-vis vests and some pinchers, they say ‘ICCS Clean Team’ on the back, and so Kevin our outreach worker talked to a couple people to see who would want to be on,” said Clason. “He just all of a sudden felt purpose.”
“Total purpose and drive to change the opinion of these people’s attitudes and opinions on us,” said Nall.
Nall was born and raised in Hamilton, Ont. and struggled with homelessness throughout his life. He stresses that he’s always cared about other people, though, and that compassion for others has been a constant in his life.
He was homeless in Edmonton with his dog Joe for some time before moving to the Island. He was homeless for a year-and-a-half in Parksville before moving into 222 Corfield. He said he feels a lot of empathy for people currently living on the streets.
“I want to change that,” he said. “First off, we have to change all these people’s perspectives and outlook on us.”
He notes there are supportive members of the community as well — ones that see the value in Orca Place.
When Nall and the rest of the team were out on Dec. 10, they ran into Frank Burgess and Lily Hallock, who live nearby.
Burgess said in the short time since the clean team has started up, he’s already noticed a difference. Hallock echoed his sentiments and said she’s never had any problems with her neighbours at Orca Place.
“They should have another one over here. That’s right, they need to get these people a place to live,” said Burgess. “And it wasn’t these people who made the mess, but they get blamed for it.”
So, as Nall cleaned up garbage for an hour on Dec. 10, he smiled at passersby and chatted with people along the clean team’s route.
“I can’t have people giving us a bad name,” he said. “That’s not fair.”