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Parksville parish welcomes those in need after city axes plan for cold weather shelter

St. Anne's Church, the oldest log church in Canada, has opened its doors overnight for anyone in Parksville, B.C. experiencing homelessness in need of a place to sleep. (Twitter/greend01)

Staff at a local church in Parksville, B.C. have stepped in to help the community's homeless this winter after city council cancelled plans earlier this year for a cold weather shelter in the mid-island city.

On Dec. 6, St. Anne's Church opened its doors to anyone in need of a place to sleep and will continue to do so until a more permanent solution is found. Overnight guests participate in a nightly prayer vigil, eat a hot meal and then curl up on a pew or donated cot until the next morning.

The experience has been dubbed 'Pray and Stay' by the parish.

"The response of those who need a warm place to stay and the response of the community has been phenomenal," said Reverend Christine Muise in an interview on CBC's On The Islandadding there are people coming to the church regularly to assist those sleeping there to "get access to the care and help they need so this issue will become less."

Place of refuge

The issue of homelessness has been a hot-button issue in Parksville this year.

An eight-bed cold weather shelter was initially going to be included in a 52-unit supportive housing complex called Orca Place, which opened in the city in August.

City council decided to repay a grant to the Regional District of Nanaimo that had been given, with the condition a winter shelter be included at the site, and axed the idea when they had control of the project.

Muise says the old log church, the oldest on the island, will be a place of refuge for anyone who needs it until a more permanent solution is found.

"It has 125 years of love in it and everyone who has come just feels safe and cared for," said Muise.

She said the faith aspect hasn't been a barrier for the half dozen or so people that have come nightly and the prayer component can be as quick as: 'Thank you creator for this warm and lovely space for which to be. Amen.'

Pray and Stay nights began on Dec. 6, which is the anniversary of date of when Muise was ordained 11 years ago. It is also the saint day of Saint Nicholas of Myra, who Muise said inspired the modern day Santa Claus.

St. Anne's Anglican Church is located at 407 Wembley Road in Parksville.

With files from On The Island