Stabbing, drug death ‘ramp up’ fears over temporary shelter

Recent incidents such as a stabbing and a fatal overdose at the Victoria courthouse tent city can’t help but fan neighbourhood fears over plans to turn the vacant Boys and Girls Club into a temporary homeless shelter, says Coun. Chris Coleman.

A public meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the old Boys and Girls Club, 1240 Yates Ave., to answer neighbours’ questions about the temporary shelter.

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Coleman worries the meeting might turn out to be a repeat of last summer’s walk in Topaz Park, where hundreds showed up to loudly voice their displeasure over the city’s idea of locating a temporary tent city there.

“Every time something untoward happens in the tent city, it ramps up the angst for people in a whole bunch of other areas,” Coleman said.

Parents of students attending Central Middle School, which is across the street from the Boys and Girls Club, are “understandably concerned for their kids,” he said.

“We’ve seen a number of stories lately that heightens the distrust of the parent groups. I think we all get that. They’re worried about their kids.”

Still, plans are moving ahead. The city has already begun $45,000 in renovations to the Yates Avenue building to make way for a temporary 24/7 shelter for 40 people. The plan is to open in the first week of January and operate until April 30.

The city will lease the long-vacant property to B.C. Housing and Our Place will operate it for the next four months.

Ted Godwin, president of Central Middle School’s parent advisory council, is on the record as opposing the homeless shelter.

Godwin has expressed concerns about the possibility of needles and condoms on school property and students’ exposure to drug sales during the four months it’s used as a temporary shelter.

Our Place executive director Don Evans hopes the information session tonight doesn’t turn angry.

“The purpose of this meeting is for us to listen — listen to the neighbours, listen to any concerns and make sure we can mitigate or eliminate any issues that they are concerned about,” Evans said. “I understand that the biggest concern from the school is going to be about safety. We deal with that. We have other shelters in the city and we deal with that with neighbours. Our intent is to have a staffed facility that’s well run and we’re going to have outside security.”

A neighbourhood agreement is planned to address issues such as security, graffiti and keeping the building and grounds clean. Because the shelter is to operate 24/7, Evans doesn’t expect issues with people congregating outside.

“It’s not like people are going to be hanging outside waiting for it to open. People are going to be coming and going, but they’re going to be sleeping there. They are going to be eating there. We’re going to have programming in there. We’re going to be meeting with them and finding out what are the things that are important to them,” Evans said.

Mayor Lisa Helps doesn’t expect a repeat of Topaz Park, noting that the idea of using a vacant building as a temporary shelter came out of the shelter workshop held in response to residents’ concerns expressed at Topaz Park.

“The number one suggestion that came back both from the online survey and the folks at the sheltering solutions workshop was to temporarily repurpose a vacant building. So when B.C. Housing came knocking, we happened to have a vacant building,” Helps said.

The temporary shelter is expected to provide respite for many of the people camping outside the provincial courthouse on Burdett Avenue. Evans said the focus will be on shifting people out of the shelter and into housing.

Our Place will operate the shelter, offering all-day support services, storage, laundry and daily meals to 40 people without homes. B.C. Housing has allocated $400,000 for a new temporary shelter in the winter months. The United Way of Greater Victoria is contributing $25,000.

bceleverley@timescolonist.com

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