Save-On-Foods arena residents moving into Mount Tolmie hospital building in Saanich

The former Mount Tolmie long-term care hospital will be used starting this month as a temporary shelter for residents who have been staying in Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.

Workers were at the site, 3690 Richmond Rd., on Monday to get the facility ready.

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The move will likely take place on June 14, said Avery Taylor, director of operations in Victoria for the PHS Community Services Society, which is contracted to provide shelter services.

The arena currently has 43 residents, living in what are called pods.

Taylor said the society will continue work to find appropriate permanent housing for some of those at the arena.

No more than 43 residents will be moving into the hospital, he said, adding that the number will likely be closer to 35.

“We have been working very hard to get folks housed.”

The facility is being used as a shelter, not for permanent housing, he said. The long-term goal is to line up permanent housing with supports.

PHS has been delivering shelter services at the arena and will continue to do so at the hospital, bringing the same staff to minimize disruption to the residents.

“I think it’ll be an excellent location,” Taylor said.

B.C. Housing and Island Health have an agreement allowing the provincial agency to use the empty hospital as a temporary shelter for one year.

The arena lease could not be extended because it is hosting the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Olympic Qualifying Tournament from June 29 to July 4, the province said.

Many arena residents have been living together for months and have developed a strong sense of community, it said.

The society ran the shelter out of the arena for several months last year and resumed again this spring.

Services will remain the same at Mount Tolmie including daily meals, 24-7 staffing, and health and wellness supports, including harm-reduction and clinical services, the province said.

This shelter is part of the province’s effort to find shelters and homes for citizens living outdoors. It ramped up as the pandemic hit and people camped in parks and along Pandora Avenue.

Among new locations, some had suggested using the former Oak Bay Lodge. It, along with Mount Tolmie hospital, had been emptied when the new Summit on Quadra opened last year.

B.C. Housing said the lodge would have needed “significant upgrades even for temporary use, which would take substantial time and funding that would not make sense given the temporary nature of its availability.”

Mount Tolmie, at the corner of Richmond Road and Cedar Hill Cross Road, is close to community services and public transit and everyone can be housed in one location, it said.

“B.C. Housing had previously inquired to Island Health about securing Mount Tolmie Hospital for housing, but it wasn’t until recently that Island Health was able to make it available for this use.”

B.C. Housing said it is covering building maintenance and utility costs at Mount Tolmie. The hospital requires minimal improvements, such as minor security changes to the building’s locks, cameras, and entry fobs.

Built in the late 1960s the one-storey Mount Tolmie Hospital is mainly has four-bed, ward-style rooms with some semi-private and private rooms, Island Health’s website states.

It includes gardens, two dining rooms and an activity room.

A Mount Tolmie Community Association board member said the group anticipates taking part in virtual meetings to learn more from B.C. Housing.

B.C. Housing said it will be engaging with the community in the coming weeks to address questions or concerns.

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said: “Addressing housing challenges is a priority for the District of Saanich, and we understand B.C. Housing is working diligently to bring forward more supportive housing solutions to our community.

“Increasing the number of housing options in the region is important, and we look forward to seeing this project take shape.”

Leah Hollins, board chair of Island Health said: “Safe and supportive housing contributes to improved health outcomes, which has never been more important than during our current dual COVID-19 and drug poisoning public health emergencies.”

On the web: letstalkhousingbc.ca/saanich-mount-tolmie-hospital

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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