Mayor fears fallout from Oak Bay Lodge shelter plan

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch says he’s worried that a proposal to use Oak Bay Lodge as a temporary shelter for people without homes during the COVID-19 outbreak will harm long-term plans for the site.

Murdoch said Oak Bay has been working behind the scenes for months with the Capital Regional Hospital District to find a permanent use for the property — including a possible mix of housing and health-care services.

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“If we’re going to have community support for what we need on that site, we need to have a positive relationship and the trust of the community and our partners,” he said.

“So there’s a risk here of damaging the meaningful process by jamming something through for 12 months or something. That’s probably the bigger concern here.”

The Capital Regional District’s main board decided this month to explore the possibility of using the 238-bed lodge for temporary housing or as an interim hospital during the pandemic.

The hospital district will take possession of the lodge next month — 30 days after the last of the lodge’s residents left to move into The Summit, a new 320-bed facility on Hillside Avenue.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who proposed the idea of exploring short-term uses for the lodge, has suggested the facility could house some of the people currently sleeping in Beacon Hill Park.

CRD staff will report back to the hospital district board, before any decisions are made.

But Murdoch, who supported the exploratory motion, worries that the ensuing controversy over a possible homeless shelter in Oak Bay could hurt the process of finding a permanent use for the property.

“It’s in danger, frankly, from this short-term motion and the hubbub that’s come out of this,” he said. “And I don’t want to see that damaged.”

In an effort to show the work that’s been taking place in private, Oak Bay council has released a previously confidential letter that Murdoch wrote to the hospital district last October.

In the letter, Murdoch expresses concern that the hospital district might simply sell off the property.

“Oak Bay Council prefers that the Oak Bay Lodge site be used for regional health care and potentially supportive care, respite care, housing, or other possible innovations and that the lands remain in whole or in part in public hands,” Murdoch wrote in the Oct. 1 letter to Denise Blackwell, who chairs the hospital district board.

“Oak Bay would like such opportunities identified, fully explored and discussed with stakeholders and the community-at-large.”

Murdoch said he’s precluded from revealing in-camera discussions and decisions that have happened since he wrote the letter. But he’s satisfied with the approach being taken by the hospital district, he said.

He added that Oak Bay council remains open to temporary uses of the lodge, providing there is proper consultation and that nothing undermines community trust or puts long-term plans for the property at risk.

Blackwell was unable to comment on private discussions between the hospital district and Oak Bay. But she confirmed in an interview that the hospital district and the municipality are working closely together on the property to find the “highest and best use for Oak Bay and for the health region.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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