Hotel fire delays efforts to house people without homes in Victoria

A fire that displaced dozens of residents from the Capital CityCenter Hotel last month has set back efforts to find homes for people currently living in parks.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said this week that it’s unlikely that an alliance of business, government and community groups will meet its goal of moving 200 people indoors by the end of the year.

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“The fire really threw a wrench into things,” she said.

The blaze, which broke out Nov. 5, forced the evacuation of the hotel — including more than 80 suites managed by Our Place Society as supportive housing for people with complex needs.

Leah Young, the society’s director of housing and shelter, says B.C. Housing took in 68 of the displaced clients by opening up an unused portion of the former Comfort Inn and Suites, which the provincial government purchased for temporary housing in May.

Our Place then worked with the Victoria Cool Aid Society and other agencies to find placements for another 15 people.

“So we were able to get everybody in,” Young said.

Unfortunately, officials say, that used up some of the units that the Community Wellness Alliance intended to make available for people currently living in homeless shelters or city parks.

The alliance is using rent subsidies from B.C. Housing and Island Health to move people from supportive housing into private-market apartments, which in turn frees up space in supportive housing for people from the parks.

“We did have some folks that have used rent supplements and moved out to private-market units,” said Heidi Hartman, B.C. Housing’s regional director of operations for Vancouver Island.

“But with the fire at Capital CityCenter, we had to use those vacancies to accommodate the folks who were dispersed because of the fire.”

There have been other challenges as well.

The subsidies allow people on income assistance to top up the $375 they receive for rent, so they can pay $750 to $825 a month. But that’s still far short of market rents in Victoria, so the alliance has had difficulty finding rooms.

Helps said 15 to 20 supplements have been used, mostly with landlords who have worked with the program before or people who have basement suites for rent.

“That is presenting as a big challenge,” she said.

Despite the setbacks, the alliance remains committed to moving as many people indoors as it can, Hartman said.

“We’re seeing the successes in the hotels,” she said. “We’ve already had folks move into market housing because they got settled… . And that just speaks to the difference that a roof over your head, and a good meal [makes].”

In addition, about five people have moved into Our Place’s Therapeutic Recovery Community, and officials are optimistic that more supportive housing space will open up later this month once people move into two new affordable housing projects in View Royal and Langford.

“I think we’d be in a much better position if that fire hadn’t happened and displaced everyone,” Helps said. “But what we’re really focusing on is moving everyone we can, as quickly as we can.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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