People sheltering outdoors to begin moving to tiny homes, shelter in early May

People sheltering outdoors will likely begin moving into tiny homes near Royal Athletic Park and a shelter space in Victoria West starting in early May, says the non-profit that will manage the tiny-home village.

Grant McKenzie, communications director for Our Place Society, said construction delays have pushed back the move-in dates for the tiny-home village in the parking lot next to Royal Athletic Park and a Vic West shelter on Russell Street, which together will house about 100 people.

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People who are being offered a spot in either location should be informed this week, and they’ll likely start moving into the shelter during the first week of May and into the tiny-home village the next week, McKenzie said.

The delays won’t affect city council’s decision last month to end all-day camping as of May 1, but the bylaw won’t be enforced against people who have confirmed offers of indoor space and are waiting for it to be ready, said Mayor Lisa Helps.

The province and the City of Victoria set a deadline of April 30 to offer indoor spaces to people sheltering in parks and ravines, one month later than initially proposed. The province announced in March it had secured enough spaces to move more than 200 people indoors.

In February, B.C. Housing counted 220 people who were sheltering in Victoria parks, said spokesperson Laura Mathews, and since then, 114 people have moved into shelter spaces or housing.

Outreach workers will be in parks before the end of April making shelter offers to those who remain, she said, noting the number of people sheltering in parks fluctuates on a daily basis.

Kelly Roth, executive director of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, said many people are excited about the opportunity to move indoors and get on a pathway to permanent housing.

“This isn’t an interim thing. This is a long-term commitment for people experiencing homelessness to wind up in permanent housing, not temporary shelters,” she said.

As people move indoors, McKenzie said he’s noticed a decline in numbers at Our Place’s drop-in services. The change was particularly noticeable at an Easter dinner that would normally see about 800 to 1,000 people. This year, they fed about 300 people at the Pandora Avenue location, he said, while several hundred meals were distributed to people living in hotels.

“I think it definitely shows that people are being housed and that’s always a good thing,” he said.

Rev. Al Tysick, who spends his early-morning hours providing food and support to people who are homeless and living in shelters, has also noticed fewer people living on the streets.

He credited B.C. Housing and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness with moving quickly to house people, but cautioned that current efforts will not be able to house everyone.

“There’s not enough room for people that are out there, so we’re still going to see people struggling with the high rents, because they can’t find subsidy housing out here,” he said.

In Beacon Hill Park, the number of shelters decreased to 72 this week, down by 20 from about three weeks ago, ­according to a count by the city. The number of shelters does not necessarily reflect the number of people living in the park.

Anthony Bryan, who is ­sheltering in a tent in the park, said he hopes to move indoors to an individual unit where he can lock his door, and he’s still ­waiting to hear if he’ll get an offer.

He said there was a flood of people moving out of the park and into shelters a few weeks ago, but that movement has slowed.

“Now it’s radio silence again,” he said.

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