People without homes to be moved into temporary Sooke shelter

People sleeping in tents in Sooke’s Ed Macgregor Park will soon be relocated to a 17-bed temporary shelter on Otter Point Road.

The District of Sooke’s emergency operations centre and B.C. Housing identified a location on private land at 2197 Otter Point Rd., next to the town hall.

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The former fitness centre is being renovated to provide 17 beds and access to washrooms.

Residents will be able to move into the shelter on July 20.

Fourteen people are camping in Ed Macgregor Park, just west of Sooke’s town centre. The homeless camp was created on June 19, when people sheltering inside the SEAPARC leisure complex were asked to vacate to allow the recreation centre to reopen and resume regular operations.

The rec centre, which closed to the public on March 17, was turned into an emergency-response centre in late April to provide a space for people without homes to self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Maja Tait acknowledged the homeless camp has been a flashpoint in the community, with reports of residents throwing rocks at tents and one case of a person trying to take photos inside a tent.

She said she’s heard complaints from the public about needles and garbage and how they feel unsafe bringing their family to the park.

“I’ve heard: ‘The park is being destroyed.’ No, it isn’t actually. The residents there are doing their best to keep it tidy and clean,” she said, adding that she did not witness any needles or refuse during a visit to the park.

Bylaw officers and Sooke RCMP have not witnessed any illegal activity or bylaw infractions, she said, and police have not responded to any calls associated to the campers.

Outreach workers have been in contact with people living in the park and will help with the transition from the homeless camp to the shelter, Tait said.

B.C. Housing is funding both the renovations of the building and on-site operations of the shelter. B.C. Housing did not have a figure for the costs.

The Sooke Region Communities Health Network has been contracted to manage the shelter and provide services to the residents. The Sooke Shelter Society, AVI Health and Community Services, and Island Health will provide services such as twice-daily meals and physical- and mental-health support.

The shelter will provide housing for about four months, Tait said, as the landlord has other plans for it beyond that.

Tait said she’s already heard concerns from the neighbours of the new shelter who are worried about social disorder.

“But I just feel that having folks in a more secure building is better than camping outside,” she said.

Tait said the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare Sooke’s homelessness issue, underscoring the need for long-term supportive housing.

Eight new affordable rental homes in Sooke are under construction in the Hope Centre at 6750 West Coast Rd. The centre, operated by M’akola Housing Society, provides 25 homes for youth and adults who have been homeless or were at risk of being homeless.

B.C. Housing is providing $1.5 million in construction financing to convert three commercial units into eight new homes, which are expected to be complete by October. Monthly rents are expected to range between about $600 for a studio and $700 for a one-bedroom.

The B.C. government, the federal government and Capital Regional District also have a funding partnership to build 245 new affordable rental homes in Sooke. That includes 75 homes, including 15 shelter-rate homes, at 2170 Charters Rd. and 170 homes, including 34 shelter-rate homes, at 6480 Drennan St. Construction of housing on Charters Road is expected to be complete by 2021.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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