Oak Bay Lodge could become temporary housing for homeless people

The Capital Regional District will explore the possibility of using Oak Bay Lodge as temporary housing for people without homes during the COVID-19 outbreak.

CRD directors unanimously approved a motion from Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps on Wednesday that directed staff to work with B.C. Housing and Island Health to investigate options for the 238-bed facility once it becomes vacant.

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In addition to housing, the motion suggests using the lodge as an interim hospital if a second wave of COVID patients overwhelms the health-care system.

The CRD is set to take possession of the seniors home in August after all the residents have moved into The Summit, a new 320-bed facility on Hillside Avenue that was built to replace both Oak Bay Lodge and Mount Tolmie Hospital.

People are expected to begin moving from those facilities into The Summit in the next few days.

CRD officials are in discussions with Island Health and Oak Bay about long-term plans for the Oak Bay Lodge site at 2251 Cadboro Bay Rd.

But, in the meantime, Helps said some of the lodge’s units could be used for hospital patients during the pandemic, while others could provide temporary housing for people in need.

“There are 238 units there, and there are about as many people across the region right now who are homeless,” she told the CRD board. “It just seems that we should at least explore the possibility of using what will be a vacant building that’s owned by a public entity.”

Victoria city council has been under fire in recent weeks for allowing people without homes to set up permanent campsites in Beacon Hill Park during the pandemic.

“We’ve received hundreds of emails asking us to do something about Beacon Hill Park and here is one thing that we can do,” Helps said in an interview.

“We know that people that are sleeping in Beacon Hill Park right now come from across the region, not just from the city of Victoria. So using a regional facility to house people on a temporary basis is a good idea in my opinion.”

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch voted in favour of exploring temporary uses for the building.

“I think we all have to find ways of chipping in and helping on this,” he told the board.

Colwood Mayor Rob Martin backed the motion as well, but stressed the need for a clear definition of “temporary.”

“One of my concerns is that I don’t think there’s going to be an announcement that COVID is now over,” he said. “So how do we define what temporary is and when that is done?”

CRD officials said they will be able to clarify that issue in talks with B.C. Housing and Island Health, and provide more information when they report back to the regional hospital board.

Helps said she was “deeply, deeply grateful” to her fellow directors for voting in favour of the motion.

“To be honest, I don’t know what I was expecting, but unanimous support means that there really is a willingness across the region to say: ‘Hey, how are we going to solve this together?’

“And the only way that we really are going to solve it is together.”

B.C. Housing said in a statement Wednesday that it appreciates any ideas or offers to support vulnerable people in the community during the pandemic.

“The suggestion of [using] Oak Bay Lodge was just brought forward to B.C. Housing’s attention today, so we don’t have any details about this opportunity yet, but look forward to discussing it with our local partners, including Island Health,” the statement said.

Island Health, meanwhile, seemed to rule out the possibility of using Oak Bay Lodge as a hospital during another influx of COVID-19 case.

“We are working with our communities and community partners on how to best support our population through the anticipated second wave,” the health authority said in a statement.

“With respect to supporting acute care needs, the infrastructure of Oak Bay Lodge would not be a best fit.”

The 70-bed Mount Tolmie Hospital has similar challenges, but “work continues on opportunities that Mt. Tolmie may provide to support the needs of an anticipated second wave,” the statement said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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