Province, city step up efforts to move people without homes indoors

People without homes began moving from the tent camp beside Royal Athletic Park into a temporary shelter at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Monday as B.C. Housing, the City of Victoria and social service agencies stepped up efforts to get people indoors by the end of the month.

Victoria councillors promised in November to end around-the-clock camping as of March 31 — provided more than 200 people living in parks or on the street had been offered a place to stay.

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Attorney General and Housing Minister David Eby pledged last week to exceed that goal and said the province will have extra spaces if needed.

The reopening of Save-On-Foods arena as a temporary shelter will add 45 beds to the mix. Heidi Hartman of B.C. Housing said another 30 to 40 units will be reopening at Capital CityCenter Hotel, where a fire displaced dozens of people in November.

In addition, the province is providing rent supplements to help people move from supportive housing into market rentals, thereby freeing up space for people from the parks.

“Our work isn’t done,” Hartman said. “We’re actively looking in community for other options and we’ll definitely be putting those rent supplements to use.”

In a related move, Our Place Society announced Monday that it has agreed to manage a village of 30 tiny homes built from repurposed shipping containers if that project wins approval from city council.

The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, in partnership with Aryze Developments, has raised more than $500,000 to construct the homes and has applied for a permit to temporarily locate the village in the parking lot next to Royal Athletic Park for 18 months.

Councillors will consider the application Thursday and decide whether to move it forward for public comment at a special council meeting on March 18.

A staff report pegs the city’s share of the operating costs at about $215,000 plus another $60,000 to cover installation, and later removal, of water and sewer services. The city may be able to recover some or all of the costs from a provincial grant program, staff say.

Mayor Lisa Helps said she expects a majority of council will back the proposal.

Councillors will also discuss whether to resume enforcement of its overnight camping bylaw as of March 31. The bylaw permits people to shelter in parks from dusk to dawn provided they pack up their belongings each morning.

Helps said council’s decision might be contingent on B.C. Housing confirming that everyone camping outside has been offered a spot indoors.

“But, for me, there’s no wavering or tinkering,” she said. “We made a commitment in November. The province is really doing an amazing job ­stepping up. We need people housed and we need parks back for the recreation of the general public.”

Hartman said the temporary shelter at the arena will accept 10 to 12 people a day until all 45 spots are filled.

Most people will be moving from the tent encampment in the parking lot next to Royal Athletic Park, but spots will be offered to people at other locations as well, including those living outside Rock Bay Landing on Ellice Street, she said.

People over the age of 55 and those with pre-existing health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 will be given priority.

PHS Community Services Society will operate the shelter as it did from May to the end of September last year.

Avery Taylor, director of operations, said mental-health workers will be on site around the clock and SOLID Outreach Society will run an overdose-prevention site. Residents will get three meals a day along with medical care and other services aimed at helping them get back on their feet.

“We’re really just trying to give everybody everything that they could possibly need to be prepared to move into housing,” he said. “That was one of our biggest successes from last year was people came in and we got to understand them, they got to know us and it really helped them find permanent housing.”

Tina Dawson, who was in the process of moving from the parking lot encampment to the arena Monday, said she’s hoping to make use of a rent supplement to find her own place by the end of March.

“I have $375 on my disability for shelter,” she said. “They provide me $425 on top of that for a subsidy every month. So a couple, you can get the same amount. Now, there you go. That’s workable and doable.”

Eby has made clear that he views the arena shelter as a stop-gap measure that will transition people from the camps to long-term housing. The province’s lease runs from Feb. 1 to May 30, with options to extend it.

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