Province to open shelter beds for homeless

Shelter beds will open seven days a week rain or shine throughout the winter starting Oct. 1 as a temporary fix after a five-month-old homeless encampment in Saanich moved over the weekend instead of disbanding.

The B.C. government announced today that in response to the urgent need for shelter spaces in Saanich and Victoria, including those who were living at the Regina Park encampment in Saanich, it will provide safe shelter spaces every night regardless of weather conditions.

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The province has partnered with the Native Friendship Centre.

Located at 231 Regina Ave. in Victoria, the 25-bed shelter will be open nightly from 9 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. from Oct. 1 until March 31, 2019.

“This is normally an extreme-weather shelter location, but is being opened early due to urgent need,” said the province, in a news release on Monday.

The friendship centre will provide shuttle services from pre-determined pick-up points, meals, showers and access to laundry facilities on-site.

About 40 people in about 30 tents are now camping at a provincially owned green space bounded by Ravine Way, Carey Road and Blanshard Street in Saanich. Those campers came mainly from a long-term homeless camp in nearby Regina Park, and a one-night stop at Rudd Park.

The Regina Park site was shut down last week after five months by a B.C. Supreme Court injunction, forcing more than 100 people to relocate.

Camp organizer Chrissy Brett said on Monday the opening of the shelter beds is “amazing in the immediate future for people who need to get indoors for the winter and out of their tents.”

However, “25 beds is nowhere near enough,” said Brett. It doesn’t address the long-term needs of the 40 currently at the Ravine Way camp or the 1,500 people who are homeless in Greater Victoria.

Brett said rather than a press release this morning it would have been nice if anyone from the municipality or province had shared the news directly with campers to alleviate their fears.

Saanich police issued a statement Saturday evening saying the Transportation Ministry, which owns the property, has not authorized police to enforce the Trespass Act and remove the tenters from the new site.

Police said that large quantities of furniture and other materials had been delivered to the property, and the group has a “significantly more confrontational tone” than experienced during the Regina Park encampment.

The province said B.C. Housing is working with other non-profit partners to open other winter shelters soon.

As part of the Extreme Weather Protocol, in extreme weather conditions shelter capacity in Greater Victoria expands to 465 from 340 emergency shelter beds and mats.

The province notes that beyond providing shelter beds, it has previously announced it is partnering with 22 municipalities to build more than 2,000 modular homes with support services and that through a new supportive housing fund, it will deliver 2,500 new supportive homes throughout the province. Saanich has been offered funding through this program.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

-The province’s emergency shelter program: www.bchousing.org/housing-assistance/homelessness-services/emergency-shelter-program

- Map of permanent and temporary shelters in B.C., visit: www.bchousing.org/Options/Emergency_Housing/Map

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