Orca Place

Orca Place staff

Orca Place is a site for support and care – a refuge and a home for people from the Oceanside area who have experienced housing and health challenges. Situated in a bright, modular style apartment building built by BC Housing on land owned by the City of Parksville, Orca Place contains 52 studio and one-bedroom suites, including 6 accessible units. The building provides housing, support, and programs to Oceanside residents who have been assessed and recommended by the local Housing and Outreach Support Team (known as HOST).

The three-story building has been designed to suit the architectural style of the neighbourhood and each individual apartment includes a private bathroom and a kitchen. Orca place provides a safe, and potentially long-term home for clients who are able to be mostly self sufficient, but have some need for at least a low level of support. That might be support with mental health, addiction, seniors in need of some support or life skills training.

“We have a gentleman here who just has never lived alone and has always lived at home. He can’t manage things like finances or meal planning and those sorts of things on his own,” Krystal, Orca Place manager, explains. “Just not a lot of life skills. And so, our program is designed to assist people in various walks of life, who just need a level of support,” she adds.

Krystal has been at Orca Place since it opened in 2019 and believes strongly in what supportive housing does for people. She sees first hand the positive effects programs such as Lifeskills can have on clients. “We have an amazing coordinator who teaches day to day skills. Having the life skills program has been a game changer for a lot of folks. In addition, we have some outside resources coming in and that has been great, too. Our chaplain comes in a couple of times a week to connect with folks over breakfast and coffee,” Krystal says.

Volunteers provide programming to clients as well. They come in and lead coffee time or bingo every couple of weeks, or do a walking group. “These are social activities that get people out of the room and engaging with us and with each other. What we found is that through those programs, people in different age groups, in different life stages, interact and learn from each other, “ the Orca manager explains.

Krystal has observed that “clients interacting and learning from each other squashes some of the stigma with folks who are in different walks of life. Addiction is a big piece, mental health is a big piece. We get a wide range of folks, and there is stigma that exists even between each other. So when it comes to programming, when clients really get to interact with each other, we’re seeing some of that stigma come down between them. That’s been really cool to watch and something I didn’t really expect to see. But it’s really working.”

Unique to Orca Place, there is a beautiful courtyard space with garden in the back. “We get to run some gardening programming and some outdoor activities in summertime. We get to do summer barbecues. All of this helps eliminate barriers between the clients and it helps them to get to know each other,” Krystal explains.

The Orca Place manager believes that supportive housing can be really helpful in teaching clients how to interact with each other. She notes that “some clients who lived on the street had to learn a different set of skills when living in supportive housing. It is a good avenue for clients to learn how to be a different person and how to interact with other clients without having their guards up all the time when living on the street.”

Staff at Orca Place forms a tightly knit team. There are two support staff on at all times. From Monday to Friday there is also a client case worker on site, a custodian, kitchen coordinator (or the cook on the weekend) and Krystal. The Lifeskills coordinator and her volunteers may also be on site and any number of Island Health care aides, support workers or case managers who are checking in on clients.

Orca Place has a clean team and four of the residents are part of it, i.e. they are engaged in the cleanup program twice a week as part of the work experience program. Folks can sign up either for the clean team or for gardening. A volunteer gardener comes in and the residents can sign up to assist him. Clients get paid minimum wage. It is a program that is Orca specific and it takes care of some of our property management and maintenance.

Clients in this program are accountable for their hours and for showing up on a schedule at the same time every couple of weeks. They get to choose which work experience programs they engage in, giving them some autonomy. “It gives them something to do that they can look forward to and “I think there’s value in that,” Krystal says.

Asked about her background, Krystal explains that she started working with ICCS at Samaritan Place. She was living on Gabriola Island at that time and commuting to work every day. When Orca Place opened in 2019 she was keen to work there. “ I really believe strongly in what supportive housing does for people. I really wanted to work in this team,” Krystal says. Before coming to ICCS Krystal was living in Saskatchewan and working in a youth shelter. She really enjoyed her time there, but found her passion working with people who are unhoused. “That’s something I really feel strongly about,” she says. “ICCS’s mission statement resonated with me and who I am as a person,” she explains. “ICCS is an organization I feel strongly about”.