City of Victoria to pay $130,000 for storage lockers for homeless

Homeless people in Victoria will soon have overnight storage for their belongings instead of having to pack everything on their backs or in shopping carts.

“It’s really a closet for people who don’t have a home to put all their valuables and their clothing,” said Don Evans, executive director of Our Place Society, which operates a drop-in centre offering meals, showers and other services.

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Victoria councillors have approved allocating $130,000 to help the Our Place drop-in on Pandora Avenue to build and operate a storage facility in its courtyard in space formerly occupied by an overdose prevention site.

The site closed after Island Health opened a supervised drug consumption site on Pandora in June.

The plan is to build a storage area that will hold 190-litre totes for about 100 people.

There will also be a sorting area and a small area for carts, patterned after a successful operation run by First United Church in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for eight years.

“The goal is to try to get people to transfer over from the shopping cart into a tote and get comfortable with that,” Evans said.

“Once they have a place to keep their belongings secure, they no longer really need the shopping carts unless they are collecting bottles or something.”

The plan also is to help people pare down their belongings to just what they need.

People will be able to keep their belongings there indefinitely as long as they check in on a daily basis, Evans said.

“Then they’ll just check in each day and pick up what they need. … Then they can put it back in the morning.”

The idea of using the space at Our Place came from Victoria Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who said the lack of storage has long been a significant gap in the services available to homeless people.

“But also [it addresses] the concerns of our business community or anybody else of chattels that are on the sidewalk or in parks.”

Both Thornton-Joe and Mayor Lisa Helps said the storage area will help to reduce the stigma associated with homelessness.

“This will allow people to place their things and maybe go to a job interview, maybe go to an appointment, maybe go to an employment program, whatever that may be, without having that very, very stigmatizing symbol of being poor,” Helps said, adding that one of the most profound comments she has heard is: “How do I go to a job interview with my shopping cart?”

“I think from everybody’s point of view this is a very good thing and I’m happy with the location. I think it makes sense to have it at Our Place,” Helps said.

Coun. Geoff Young argued against the expenditure, saying the funds should used to pay for additional shelter beds to eliminate the need for people to sleep in parks and streets. “Which, of course, is what gives rise to a lot of the need for sleeping bags and so forth,” Young said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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