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For the vulnerable, a sense of relief

Another day. Another overdose by the showers building Saturday morning at Topaz Park. This time, the person survived.

Another day. Another overdose by the showers building Saturday morning at Topaz Park.

This time, the person survived.

And unlike the devastation felt at the camp earlier in the week when two men died in their tents, likely of an overdose, there was a sense of relief Saturday that there would finally be help for the homeless, the mentally ill and the drug-addicted.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth issued an evacuation order for the homeless camp at Topaz Park and for those camping on the medians of Pandora Avenue. By May 9, the government will move people from the camps into hotels rooms to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I feel so relieved and so hopeful because it gives a time frame to this,” shelter manager Kelly Roth said. “We’re constantly dealing with overdoses. All the staff and stakeholders and service providers who are part of this team were wondering how long we could keep doing it.”

Five women camping at Topaz Park had already moved indoors Saturday afternoon, said Roth, executive director of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

“They were thrilled. They’re inside. They’ve got their own bed to sleep in, their own bathroom. They’re super excited. Since they first heard some hotel rooms might be available, everybody has been asking ‘Is there room for me? Is there room for me?’ One woman has been asking us every single day and she moved off today and she was ecstatic. She said she didn’t belong here and doesn’t use drugs.”

On Friday, staff at Topaz Park made a list of everybody at the camp and everyone who wanted indoor shelter.

“There was a pretty strong response. Everyone wanted to move indoors. It’s fine when it’s sunny, but not when it’s pouring rain and people are cold and their pants are soaked.”

Although the government has given the May 9 deadline, Roth thinks it will take three weeks at least, and maybe a month, before everyone is moved out of the park.

The plan is to move 15 to 20 people a day. But there’s a lot of stuff to move and it takes time to give people the supports they need, said Roth. Priority will be given to move the most vulnerable first, including women and youth, who will be assessed by the Ministry for Children and Family Development. The government has not said which hotels are being used to house people from Topaz and Pandora.

The staff at Topaz Park have been trying to create social order, said Roth. The tents are in rows and campers get breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Next week, their laundry will be done,

“For some people, who have never had any kind of stability, it’s an opportunity to say ‘This isn’t so scary. I actually can move.’ ”

Sometimes people don’t last in supportive housing because they lose their street community, said Roth.

“It’s not because they don’t want the warm bed, it’s because they don’t have a sense of belonging.”

The province has said they will keep family groupings together, which gives Roth hope that the little communities at Topaz Park will be able stay together and not be isolated.

The COVID-19 crisis has given the government the opportunity to address the homeless crisis because it’s in the public interest, said Roth. There’s been a lot of public pressure and letters from communities, doctors and nurses and police.

“If you have transient people moving through the city, we’re all at risk. The homeless crisis didn’t matter enough, but now it matters enough because everybody is at risk. This is about everybody and government has a mandate to take care of everybody.”

Roth hopes people will be able to stay indoors until more permanent housing is available.

“A city, a province, a country is judged by how it takes care of its most vulnerable. So I think ‘Good, B.C. Let’s go Canada. Let’s demonstrate that we care.’ ”

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