Medical health officer Paul Hasselback speaks at a forum addressing the “unique needs” for mental health and substance use issues in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region. The forum was hosted by the Oceanside Harm Reduction Coalition. — Lauren Collins photo

VIDEO: Locals suggest safe drug use site needed in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Forum held on mental health and substance use issues in the region

After a forum on mental health and substance use last week in Parksville, some people are saying local substance users and homeless people need somewhere to go to use in Parksville Qualicum Beach.

The forum, held Thursday, Feb. 8, was organized by the Oceanside Harm Reduction Coalition. It was billed as a community conversation on the Parksville Qualicum Beach region’s “unique needs” regarding mental health and substance use issues.

About 100 people attended the event, which included local government officials, RCMP, outreach workers and people from the local homeless community.

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The forum included three speakers: medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback; Dr. Bernie Pauly of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research; and Dr. Stephanie McCune with the practice support team for Island Health.

Hasselback presented a review of the data on the overdose crisis in the mid-Island region, Pauly spoke on the public health approach to the overdose crisis and McCune talked about using compassion when discussing mental health and substance use.

Hasselback said a high number of people using substances are using alone.

“Almost all (overdoses), here on the Island, particularly north of the Malahat, are occuring in private residences. This isn’t something that’s happening on the streets or in parks with someone who doesn’t have a home.”

Hasselback said many people he’s talked to that use want to get help and are very “real” about becoming healthy.

“We’re not talking about a population that doesn’t care about their lives,” Hasselback said.

At the end of his presentation, Hasselback included a wishlist for Parksville Qualicum Beach which included better data on substance use for the specific region, more outreach programs, expansions to low-barrier housing and the possibility of a supervised consumption site.

Kami, who lives in Parksville and attended the forum, told The NEWS the substance use in Parksville Qualicum Beach is “pretty bad.” Kami said she uses substances, specifically an amphetamine, but is not homeless.

“You can’t really say there is not a problem — because there is,” Kami said.

Kami said she knows of people who have overdosed in Parksville Qualicum Beach, and she’s helped, along with others, to save a kid from overdosing a “couple times.”

She said the region needs some place where people can go to use safely, such as a safe consumption site. Kami estimates that if there was a safe consumption site, about 25 people would use the site.

“They (government officials) don’t want to say there’s a problem here… They have to have more people deal with the issue of why people are using because it’s usually underlying problems,” Kami said.

Kami said she’s spoken with Sandy Twiss, who runs a local homeless outreach program on Thursdays and Saturdays, about places for the homeless and substance users to go.

At the forum, people were given hearts with questions written on them that they could write answers to and post them on poster boards. Some of the questions included “How do you see mental health and substance use services in Oceanside?” and “Whose voices are being heard and whose are not?”

Twiss said some of the homeless people who attended the forum did write on the boards, replying that nobody was listening to them and their needs.

She added some of them said they need places to go during the day and at night.

Twiss said one of the main concerns is the lack of beds at the shelter.

“At six o’clock, it’s packed and there’s at least another eight people sitting outside that don’t have (space),” said Twiss.

“I don’t see why they couldn’t have part of this building (the Parksville Community and Conference Centre) like they do in Victoria and other big cities that use parts of their community centres as cold-weather shelters.”