24 people move from arena into former Mount Tolmie Hospital

Twenty-four people have moved into a temporary shelter in the former Mount Tolmie long-term care hospital in Saanich from Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.

The arena is hosting the International Basketball Federation Olympic Qualifying Tournament from June 29 to July 4, prompting B.C. Housing to find an alternate location for shelter residents.

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Residents are settling in well to their new space after Monday’s move, said Avery Taylor, director of operations in Victoria for the PHS Community Services Society, which is contracted to operate the temporary shelter.

“We feel it’s gotten off to a really, really good start and you know, we’re super, super thankful to the neighbours that have been so welcoming,” he said.

Fewer people moved to the new site than expected, because 19 people moved into permanent supportive or independent housing from the arena in the week between announcing the new shelter space and moving day, Taylor said.

The former hospital at Richmond Road and Cedar Hill Cross Road is in an area with both commercial and residential buildings.

Taylor said there are always anxious neighbours when a new shelter opens, but he has been surprised by the number of people dropping off cookies, cakes and cards to welcome the shelter residents.

That sense of welcome has a big impact on the residents, he said.

Any new shelter space needs an adjustment period while residents settle into their new home, Taylor said, but because those living in the former hospital have already been living together for months, he expects that period will be shorter and easier than the opening of most shelters.

Mayor Fred Haynes said he has received many emails from residents who are concerned that there was no consultation between the province and the neighbourhood on the location of the shelter.

“They’re also concerned about understanding more about the people in the community who just moved into the Mount Tolmie hospital, and also those who may be people that may have predatory behaviours on this vulnerable population,” he said.

Haynes organized two online information sessions to give neighbours a chance to ask questions of police, the fire department, B.C. Housing and PHS Community Services Society. There were 40 residents at a meeting Friday, and another 109 who participated the week before.

Haynes said neighbours expressed worries that a recent assault on an employee outside a store about a block away from the former hospital may have been linked to the new shelter, but B.C. Housing representatives said it’s unlikely the incident was related.

He has planned a third session next Friday to connect residents with the police and fire departments and intends to hold as many meetings as the community requires.

Saanich police have increased their presence in the area with both uniformed and non-uniformed officers, he said.

“We’re taking it seriously. And we’re listening to every concern,” Haynes said.

B.C. Housing and PHS Community Services Society made minor security changes to the building and moved sleeping pods from the arena to the former hospital in preparation for the move.

Residents are now in single or double rooms with locking doors, giving them more privacy than in the arena, where up to 47 people shared one large room divided into pods, with a bed partially surrounded by walls.

They continue to have access to two meals a day and a safe consumption site.

Washroom and shower units with running water have been set up in an enclosed courtyard, Taylor said. The former hospital has a collapsed sewer pipe that affects water service to the building, B.C. Housing said in an email. They are working to fix the issue but have temporary solutions in place with drinking-water stations and and the washroom units outside.

“We have used these types of facilities in the past, including to support the approximately 30 residents of Victoria’s Tiny Homes Village,” B.C. Housing said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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