Monday night was one of the best sleeps in a long time for Nancy, one of the first people to move into a new Vic West shelter.
Nancy said she was grateful to move out of a tent in a nearby park and into the newly opened shelter space managed by Our Place Society at 225 Russell St. on Monday.
“This is the first good thing that’s happened to me in a long, long time. And I’m super grateful,” she said, becoming emotional. “I had the best night ever.”
Nancy is one of about 10 people who moved into the shelter on its opening day, and more were trickling in Tuesday morning. Outreach workers welcomed them with intake forms, going over the shelter’s rules barring physical violence, weapons, sexual harassment, verbal abuse and drug use in a two-block radius outside of the property, among other expectations.
Cathy Mingo, manager of housing and shelter for Our Place Society, said they’re working to build relationships between shelter residents, as well as with the rest of the neighbourhood.
On Monday, she invited a couple of people from the neighbourhood into the space to meet their new neighbours.
Grant McKenzie, communications director for Our Place, said fear of the unknown often drives neighbourhood concerns when a new shelter opens. “If you can break down some of those barriers and they get to know somebody’s name, it takes away a lot fear,” he said.
Our Place staff are planning on assembling a “clean team” of shelter residents who are interested in picking up litter from the surrounding neighbourhood, and two people have already expressed interest, Mingo said.
Shelter design and management are aimed at mitigating the risk of drug overdose, with communal areas where people are encouraged to use in the presence of someone else and shower doors that include a small communication area that allows staff to speak to and hear residents inside without seeing them.
Staff will check on people using the shower units after 10 minutes, and if they don’t get a response, they’ll go inside to see how they’re doing, Mingo said.
Our Place staff will be on site 24/7, and outreach workers from PEERS Victoria Resources Society and AVI Health and Community Services will provide some daytime harm-reduction support.
Residents are also asked to provide information about what substances they use, how they use them and how often, to give staff a sense of residents’ baselines and what signs of distress to look out for.
While the shelter has space for about 70 people, the capacity is currently limited by the province to 30, Mingo said.
Arranged in tight rows, each pod contains a single bed and bedside table, with low walls on three-and-a-half sides. Some pods have been made larger, with two single beds to accommodate couples.
The province bought the building for $9.3 million as part of an effort to house more than 200 people living in Victoria parks during the pandemic.
B.C. Housing says 124 people have already moved indoors.
A tiny-home village in the parking lot at Royal Athletic Park is expected to open next week, providing shelter for 30 people.