A grassroots community group has spent the past two weekends building showers for people without homes and they plan to install them in Beacon Hill Park this weekend — whether the City of Victoria likes it or not.
Craig Turney, a Victoria carpenter who helped build the showers alongside a group of about a dozen volunteers, said people living in parks have been asking for showers since the beginning of the pandemic.
The City of Victoria has been dragging its feet on the issue, Turney said, and with the cold weather coming, the group decided to take matters into their own hands.
“It’s been something that the unhoused community has been asking for since Day 1 of the pandemic when all the services shut down,” Turney said.
“We’re just showing that the community can come together and provide a need to the community and one that the city is not providing.”
The wood and sheet-metal structure features a one-metre-square shower stall and a separate area where people take off and put on clothing. The volunteers, who first connected when they built tiny homes for Indigenous community members, built two shower stalls for a total cost of $1,500, which was funded through donations.
Once two propane hot-water heaters arrive, likely today, the group will be ready to erect the two showers in Beacon Hill Park by the weekend.
In October, the City of Victoria’s plan to provide showers at Royal Athletic Park for people without homes stalled after city staff told councillors that they were unable to find an agency to operate the showers.
The setback came after council voted Oct. 15 to open the park’s existing showers or set up portable showers in the parking lot. City staff contacted four service providers who said they don’t have the capacity to operate the showers or have concerns about the park’s isolated location.
The unauthorized showers planned for Beacon Hill park will be peer-run, Turney said, meaning people who live in the park will take turns operating and maintaining them. They will receive a stipend, funded by the more than $10,000 in donations the group has raised.
The group is still unsure where exactly in the park the showers will be installed and did not specify how they will hook up to a water source. The water runoff will be directed to a storm water drain, Turney said, and only biodegradable soap will be provided to people using the facilities.
Coun. Sarah Potts said she can understand why the community group would be frustrated with the slow pace of municipal bureaucracy. But she noted that the city cannot open a shower that will not be properly and safely managed.
“We understand why the community is asking: ‘Why is it taking so long?’ ” she said. “It does take a bit of planning and co-ordination and people are stretched so thin right now.”
Potts said there was a shower trailer that was operated in Topaz Park before people sheltering there were relocated in May. That shower trailer was overseen by the multiple outreach agencies working in the park at the time.
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Potts and Coun. Sharmarke Dubow are putting forward a motion that asks the city to provide free bus passes to people without homes. Potts said the bus passes could help people living in parks to go to shower facilities at Our Place Society on Pandora Avenue. People with disabilities can receive a free bus pass through disability assistance, but Potts said there are many people without homes who are left behind.
Our Place provides showers from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days week. The agency has also extended its hours to offer evening showers from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, at a cost of $8,000 a month funded by the City of Victoria through Emergency Management B.C.
Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Charlayne Thorton-Joe put forward a motion asking staff to look into whether the city can provide $15,000 a month to have the showers at Our Place open an additional five hours a day, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Both motions will be discussed at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting.
However, Niki Ottosen, who hands out water, blankets and supplies to people in Beacon Hill Park through an initiative called the Backpack Project, said people are so afraid of theft or vandalism, they are unwilling to leave their things unattended to travel to Our Place for a shower.
“We’re in a pandemic and we don’t have running water, toilets or showers,” Ottosen said. “Showers are something that should have been set up a long time ago.”