Tent-city campers bound for Mount Edwards units

Campers at the tent city on the Victoria courthouse lawn are expected to fill most of the 38 units under renovation at the nearby Mount Edwards building, despite initial rejection of the spaces by some homeless people or their advocates.

“There’s lots of interest in the camp and many of the people are folks that we know from our other services who have a working relationship with us and would welcome housing,” said Don McTavish, manager of shelters for Victoria’s Cool Aid Society.

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Representatives of the society have been visiting the campsite, two blocks from the 1911 heritage building, speaking with tenters to determine who is interested.

Workers will use a “vulnerability assessment” to determine individual needs, with Cool Aid collaborating with Our Place Society to see if anyone at the temporary shelter on Yates Street would be interested in moving to Mount Edwards Court, said a spokeswoman for the B.C. Housing Ministry. The Yates Street shelter will close at the end of April.

The courthouse campers have also been offered housing at the former youth detention centre in View Royal, or a rent supplement for a private apartment, the ministry spokesman said.

Cool Aid, which will run the Mount Edwards facility for the next year, is screening campers now, with some expected to move into the building at 1002 Vancouver St. starting Feb. 23, McTavish said.

The province purchased the building last week for $3.65 million from the Baptist Housing Society. Tenants will pay part of their own way — $375 per month from their shelter allowances through B.C. social assistance or other sources.

The majority of tenants in the 10 buildings Cool Aid already runs — 374 apartments in three municipalities — pay $375 in monthly rent, he said.

The $375 could also come from Old Age Security, disability pensions or unemployment insurance.

But no one would be turned away for lack of finances or for not being on social assistance, say both Cool Aid and the province.

That was “great news” for Stephen Portman, advocacy lead for Together Against Poverty Society, which has been in touch with three campers this week, trying to connect them with the Ministry of Social Development for fear they will miss out on a spot at Mount Edwards.

“Like everything with the ministry, it’s a bit complex,” Portman said, noting applicants for social assistance are required to make a five-week job search unless they have a medical exemption.

Portman said the $375 is the shelter component of the $610 in monthly income assistance from the Ministry of Social Development, and hasn’t increased since 2007.

A homeless person receives a maximum of $235 per month, or $531 if they’re designated as disabled.

“I know of multiple campers at the courthouse [tent city] who are not receiving even this basic amount and TAPS has been working to help some of them access these benefits,” Portman said.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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