Campers express mixed feelings about moving indoors as Vic West shelter opens

Outreach workers were on hand in several Victoria parks Monday to support people who are moving into a new 60-bed shelter space in Victoria West.

Gabriel Schneider, who was preparing to move from Stadacona Park to the shelter at 225 Russell St., had mixed feelings about the move.

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While he wants to get out of the rain and cold, he is worried about privacy and theft in the shelter.

“If you can’t lock the door, then you get your [stuff] stolen from you,” he said. “If something gets stolen from me, I’m just moving right out. I’ll walk right out the door.”

The Vic West shelter opened Monday, two days after a bylaw prohibiting daytime camping in parks went back into effect. Those who have accepted offers of indoor space and are in the process of moving or waiting for it to be ready will be allowed to continue sheltering outside temporarily.

B.C. Housing says all 220 people they have identified through their “homeless to sheltered” initiative have been offered an indoor space, and 124 of those people have already moved indoors.

Grant McKenzie, communications director for Our Place Society, which is managing the Russelll Street shelter, said 10 people moved in on Monday. About 40 people have accepted offers to move in, and Our Place is aiming to move in about 30 people over three days and then pause for a few days to allow everyone to settle in, he said.

McKenzie said he expects more people will accept an offer to move in as parks are cleared out.

The shelter includes 60 individual pods with a single bed and bedside table, with three-and-a-half walls around the unit. About four pods were made large enough to accommodate couples, but more could be expanded, McKenzie said, and pets are allowed in the space, which has six self-contained washroom units with a shower, toilet and sink.

Three staff will be on site 24/7, as well as two security guards. One guard will monitor the neighbourhood and the other will enforce a no-guests policy at the front door, McKenzie said. Residents can come and go as they like.

Residents who use injectable drugs will be encouraged to do so in front of a staff area so they can be monitored to prevent an overdose, while those who smoke drugs are asked to use in a courtyard so they’re not using alone, McKenzie said.

Our Place will be providing three meals a day.

Outreach workers with PEERS Victoria Resources Society were at the shelter Monday to provide Naloxone kits and talk about how to use safely in the site, said Rachel Phillips, executive director of the society.

They were also in Stadacona Park, Beacon Hill Park and Irving Park with snacks and tote bins to support people planning to make the move, as well as offering rides to the shelter, she said.

PEERS also plans to provide additional daytime harm-reduction support at the shelter, Phillips said.

For some, making the move indoors is a challenge.

Ronald Beland got the keys to a bachelor apartment in supportive housing last week, but he’s decided to continue sleeping outdoors temporarily so he can look out for the community that remains in Stadacona Park.

Beland said staying indoors reminds him of his time spent in prison. “I don’t like that door closed and the walls around me.”

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