The B.C. government will not be renewing its lease at the Travelodge on Gorge Road East where it has been providing supportive housing since the early days of the pandemic.
Rob Fleming, B.C. education minister and MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, said that the plan had always been for the supportive housing at the Travelodge to be temporary. The lease ends March 31, 2021.
“We do not want a lease extension on Travelodge. It has been a difficult site to operate.
“It was leased in good faith on an emergency basis while we developed other housing options that are distributed throughout the region,” Fleming said.
Campers from Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue were relocated into the Travelodge and other facilities this spring to help keep them safe from COVID-19.
There are typically 85 to 90 residents in supportive housing at the Travelodge, Fleming said.
It has been recognized that supportive housing facilities have been unfairly concentrated in the Burnside Gorge region, he said.
The intention was to have a short-term emergency response through housing at the Travelodge while some medium-term solutions came into place, he said.
“Of course, we need a much longer runway to have strong, long-term solutions available in this region and across B.C.”
Since the 2017 election, the province has built or committed to having a total of 3,500 new housing units completed in the capital region by the end of March, he said.
“So there is no intention to renew the lease at the Travelodge.”
It is not yet known where those at the Travelodge will go next, he said.
Discussions will be held with social workers and housing resource workers will help arrange appropriate housing for individuals, Fleming said.
“The neighbourhood, to their credit, recognized that we were in a health crisis and they have been very patient and very effective in working with the police department getting extra patrols, and working with service providers to get other things, like needle sweeps, and working with me to make sure B.C. Housing is building other housing alternatives.”
After campers were moved into the Travelodge, neighbours said they feel unsafe. They said they have been yelled at, threatened, and have found needles and other garbage in the area.
On Monday morning, Victoria police arrested three people and seized a replica firearm in the neighbourhood after receiving a report of a man with a weapon.
VicPD said officers were called to a multi-unit temporary-housing facility in the 100 block of Gorge Road East after receiving a report of a man pointing a firearm at another individual. The Travelodge is at 123 Gorge Road East.
Fleming said the province cannot address the issue of encampments on its own, saying municipal and federal governments are needed too.
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He welcomes the announcement in September that the federal government will spend $1 billion within six months so cities and housing providers can purchase properties. The money is meant to prevent people from becoming homeless and to help fight the pandemic.
Fleming noted that about a dozen residents who had been in supportive housing at the former Comfort Inn on Blanshard Street, which was purchased by the province this year, have transitioned into market housing, helped by a rent supplement. This means they will be living independently. “They were stabilized and properly housed.”
Avery Stetski, chairman of the board of the Burnside Gorge Community Association, said the board has been asking about supportive housing at the Travelodge, wondering what will happen after the lease expires. “We were in talks with B.C. Housing in regards to their ongoing plans but then with the election things sort of came to a halt right now.”
A call is to be held with B.C. Housing officials after the election, he said. It is to discuss “their actual plans — what their timelines are,” Stetski said.
The situation is “causing quite a bit of angst in the neighbourhood,” he said.