Victoria hits pause on plan to open shower facilities at Royal Athletic Park

Victoria’s plan to provide showers at Royal Athletic Park for people without homes has hit a major roadblock.

City officials reported Thursday that they have been unable to find an agency to operate the service.

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Navdeep Sidhu, assistant director of parks, recreation and facilities, said staff contacted four reputable service providers after council voted last week to open the park’s existing showers or set up portable showers in the parking lot. The service providers told the city that they either don’t have the capacity to operate the showers, or they have concerns about the park’s isolated location.

“Two of the operators that I spoke with identified that without the proper wrap-around supports, such as harm reduction or health supports, the risk will be very high to offer the service at the site — even for an operator that has experience working with vulnerable populations,” Sidhu said.

Coun. Sarah Potts acknowledged that many agencies are “stretched very thin,” but said a number of them are in discussions about co-managing a shower service, given the needs of people currently sheltering in city parks. “So it would be my hope that we can continue this conversation,” she said.

Kelly Roth, executive director of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, said Thursday that a number of groups are working together to figure out a way to provide showers for people sheltering in parks across the city.

One option might be to hire a firm to clean the showers, then have a lead agency co-ordinate a volunteer-run service. “It’s absolutely the ongoing conversation within all of the unsheltered geographic locations — here’s the basic needs, here’s the harm-reduction needs, here’s the medical needs,” Roth said.

“How are we doing this and supporting people to shelter in place until we have indoor spots for them to move to?”

In the meantime, Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said she will reach out to Our Place Society to see if the agency might be able to expand its shower hours to serve more people.

Jordan Cooper, director of services at Our Place, said the agency typically offers showers from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days week.

As well, the agency managed to secure money last winter to offer evening showers from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. “That was something that we are definitely interested in being able to offer again this year,” Cooper said.

So far, the city has provided enough money to cover the cost of evening showers from Monday to Friday.

“We still have those evening gaps on the Saturdays and Sundays, so we would definitely be open to more funding to be able to have that 6 to 9 [p.m.] gap covered seven days a week,” he said.

Cooper said Our Place hasn’t noticed a spike in demand for shower services at 919 Pandora Ave., possibly because people without homes are scattered across the city in various parks.

“Also, there’s a group of people that pre-COVID were showering here that are now in hotels and have their own showering facilities,” he said. “As we’ve re-opened from COVID, we’ve seen our numbers go up, but we’re certainly not turning anyone away.”

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