Hospital board, with conditions, OKs borrowing $30M to house homeless

The Capital Regional District Hospital Board voted Wednesday to seek authority to borrow up to $30 million to fund 367 affordable or supportive-housing units to address the needs of homeless people, in hopes of provincial buy-in.

The decision is conditional on attaining similar funding from the province, said board director Nils Jensen, mayor of Oak Bay. “If this was a marathon, I’d say we’d only covered the first kilometre,” Jensen said. “It’s a matter of whether the B.C. government is willing to open their treasury to deal with the problem.”

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Stephen Portman, advocate at Victoria’s Together Against Poverty Society, said he was thrilled at the vote, which took place not long after a public rally at Centennial Square in support of the initiative.

A report by the Coalition to End Homelessness determined 367 units are required in Greater Victoria for chronically homeless individuals. “This is targeted at the most marginalized people,” said Portman.

The $30 million will be directed toward 182 bricks-and-mortar units and a further 185 units in the form of rent supplements in supportive-housing units, he said, with the potential to re-purpose abandoned schools, buildings and care homes that are under-used. “Certainly, the best, most cost-effective way would be to re-purpose buildings,” he said. “But now that the borrowing authority is in place, it’s my hope that we can get into the details of how that plan is going to work out.”

While the plan is not a “silver bullet on homelessness,” Portman called it a giant step toward getting the ball moving. “The dollars are in place. Now we have to plan how to use those dollars effectively to leverage them to the highest degree of need in the community. … The big question is how is the ongoing support going to be funded, not the upfront capital costs.”

The CRD requested that provincial ministries and agencies contribute “sufficient funding for the social and health-care support services to complement the projects that receive capital funding” from the CRD and B.C. Housing.

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