Some hesitant to move indoors to shelter in Victoria arena

About two-thirds of those living in a camp next to Royal Athletic Park have expressed interest in moving indoors to Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, but some are hesitant to give up the privacy of a tent and worry about safety in the newly opened shelter.

Katy Booth, health outreach co-ordinator for Peers Victoria Resource Society, said the arena, which reopened for sheltering Monday, is a “fantastic option” for some, but it won’t be a good fit for everyone.

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Those who move to one of the 45 beds will have a single bed surrounded by two walls, a bedside table and a locker. Pets aren’t allowed and belongings will be limited to two storage bins and a bag, because space is limited, according to B.C. Housing.

Mayor Lisa Helps said a move to the arena is temporary and those who move will be on a pathway to permanent housing.

Booth said it’s a difficult choice for some to make, trading off on privacy for the hopes of something better in the future.

“Do I take something that I may not like for a while with the hopes of getting something better?” she said. “Or do I wait and take my chances and see if one of those supportive housing offers comes available? So it’s a tricky, tricky thing for people to decide right now.”

Booth said it’s important to have choices when housing people, because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

“Right now, it doesn’t always feel like there is a whole lot, which is understandable in the current context, but it’s not ideal,” she said.

Erik, who lives in the camp in the Royal Athletic Park parking lot, said he would rather stay in his tent than move to the arena. He has concerns about privacy, safety and lack of space for his clothing and other belongings.

“We are already pretty much living on top of each other out here in tents, however we can still go inside and close our doors and have a bit of privacy and a sense of security,” he said.

Erik feels safe and comfortable in the camp, where people have gotten to know each other and everyone mostly gets along and looks out for each other, he said. To him, the arena feels like a step back.

“If it was for a week and I knew I was going to have an apartment afterwards, maybe. Not indefinitely,” he said.

Louis, who is also living in the camp, is thinking about making the move, but he’s unsure because he would have to get rid of many of his belongings or find somewhere to store them.

“I do want to get housing, so if I could get housing quicker if I do go to the arena, that might be my option,” he said.

City council will consider an application Thursday for a permit to create a tiny-home village in the parking lot next to Royal Athletic Park and decide whether to move forward for public comment on March 18. Those camping in the parking lot would need to move to make room for the project if it goes ahead.

People sheltering at the arena will get three meals a day and medical care. SOLID Outreach Society will run an overdose-prevention site, and mental health workers will be on site around the clock.

The province’s lease runs from Feb. 1 to May 30.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Lindsay Kines

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