Neighbours welcome tiny-home residents with flowers, cookies, window signs

As new residents moved into a tiny-home village near Royal Athletic Park on Friday, a sign in a house window just down the street offered an enthusiastic welcome.

“Welcome to North Park tiny home neighbours!” said the sign in Katie Fillion’s window. Fillion said she got to know some of the people who lived in tents in the parking lot across from her home over the winter and she knew they didn’t always feel welcome in the neighbourhood.

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With 30 new neighbours expected to move in across the street in the next few days, Fillion wanted to make sure they felt part of the community.

“I wanted them to know that they’re part of our neighborhood now and that they’re really, really welcome here,” she said.

People are expected to continue moving in over the weekend, with all 30 units to be occupied by Monday, said Grant McKenzie, communications director for Our Place Society, which is managing the community.

Others have also stopped by to welcome the new residents, dropping off flowers and freshly baked cookies, McKenzie said.

Darren Heap, who moved into his unit Friday, said that after sheltering in Beacon Hill Park, his new home felt like a five-star hotel.

“I have a place over my head and now I can actually move forward in my life. Maybe I can get a job and move in that direction. You know, get my life together basically,” he said, as he unpacked in his new space.

Guy, another new resident, was feeling grateful to have a home just a couple of weeks after he started a part-time job washing cars. Before getting the keys to his tiny home, he slept on the sidewalk, in doorways and in abandoned buildings, always moving from place to place.

“I’m going to start biting my tongue more and swallowing my pride, because I don’t want to lose these things,” he said.

The unique housing project is the result of a collaboration between Aryze Developments and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, which together launched a crowdfunding campaign that raised $550,000 from 580 citizens and business in three months.

Melanie Ransome, marketing and communications manager for Aryze, said it was “spectacular” to see community members come together to fund the project.

“What is a better way to see that folks support a project than for them to actually donate their own money to fund it?” she said. “It’s pretty amazing to witness.”

Mayor Lisa Helps said it’s the first time in the city’s history that residents have come together to build housing for their neighbours.

“I think that sends a good message. You know, if you’re moving in out of somewhere, out of a tent, and you’re being welcomed with welcome arms into a neighbourhood, that sets a different tone than if there’s a lot of pushback or resistance,” she said.

B.C. Housing said as of Thursday, 191 people who had been sheltering in parks had moved indoors. With the opening of the tiny homes, they anticipate 220 people will have moved indoors by next week, which is the number of people they counted sheltering in Victoria parks early this year. Most of the indoor spaces secured by the province are now occupied or in the process of being occupied.

B.C. Housing said there are still people unhoused in the city, and outreach workers continue to visit parks daily to help people fill out supportive housing applications. All-day camping in city parks is no longer permitted.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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