Island Health nixes idea of putting homeless in Royal Athletic Park

Island Health has scrapped plans to use Royal Athletic Park as a temporary tenting site for people without homes as it ramps up efforts to move people indoors during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The health authority said it’s working with Victoria and B.C. Housing to get people off the streets during the pandemic.

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“With the focus on indoor spaces, Island Health has advised that Royal Athletic Park is no longer required as part of the co-ordinated action plan to support the vulnerable population in the [Capital Regional District],” the health authority said in a statement.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps initially announced that Royal Athletic, Topaz and Beacon Hill parks would all be used as temporary tenting sites for people without homes during he pandemic.

But Beacon Hill was later dropped on the advice of Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s chief medical health officer, in order to maximize efficiency and get the other two sites open as soon as possible.

With Royal Athletic out of the picture, Topaz Park remains the only designated temporary tenting site in Victoria. There are currently about 80 people at that location, but the plan is to move them indoors as soon as possible, the city says.

B.C. Housing is working with the city to find a service provider to oversee the camp and make sure people keep their distance from one another to prevent the virus from spreading, B.C.’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statement.

“Topaz Park will not be for people who have tested positive or are recovering from COVID-19, but is intended for vulnerable people, including those who are precariously housed or experiencing homelessness.”

B.C. Housing, meanwhile, has secured 160 hotel and motel rooms where people can self-isolate and has already referred 115 people to those spaces based on Island Health’s advice.

Helps said Wednesday that the indoor sites will provide social, health-care and harm-reduction supports.

“We’re going to do everything in our power, working together with Island Health and B.C. Housing, to prevent an outbreak in the most vulnerable community,” she said. “That’s critically important, not just for those who are living on the streets, but for our entire community if we’re going to flatten the curve and slow the pace of infection.”

The Housing Ministry said it will not be identifying the hotels and motels to protect people’s privacy and allow the facilities to focus on helping people in need.

In addition, the Victoria Native Friendship Centre’s 25-bed temporary winter shelter will remain open until the end of June to provide additional spaces.

“Temporary winter shelters normally close at the end of March each year, but as the province addresses the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working with our partners to try to keep these shelters open past March 31, especially in areas that have a high population of people experiencing homeless,” the ministry said.

B.C. Housing is in negotiations with other hotels and expects to finalize contracts within the next two weeks.

It’s also identifying city-owned buildings that might be suitable for temporary housing.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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