The B.C. government is creating 50 new shelter supplements in Victoria, as it tries to meet an end-of-March deadline to provide indoor beds for people currently sheltering at Beacon Hill Park and in other local encampments.
Attorney General David Eby said the new $450 a month subsidies will actually go to people already in supportive housing but is intended to have a ripple effect within the system to open up 50 spaces in local shelters for those outside at city parks.
“It’s a long chain reaction created by the rent supplements, but the bottom line is these rent supplements will create 50 additional spaces in shelters that allow us to do the work of getting people into permanent housing as it comes online,” Eby told CHEK News on Thursday.
“These 50 rent supplements are specifically to assist to the response to the encampments in Victoria. They are new.”
The $450 monthly subsidy is on top of the $375 base shelter allowance for single people on income assistance. Poverty reduction advocates have long called for the government to raise the shelter allowance, saying it is woefully inadequate to provide housing in the unaffordable rental markets of the Capital Regional District and Metro Vancouver.
Eby said he’s still confident the province and city can meet the March 31 deadline to end camping at local parks by the unhoused.
The province estimates 191 tents or structures in the city, but is unclear exactly how many unhoused people need space. Approximately 30 people will get a bed at new small-scale temporary housing in converted shipping containers at Royal Athletic Park, and other 50 at shelter spaces in the Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena.
Even with 50 additional shelter spaces created by the rent supplements, the province is still between 30 and 60 beds short.
The government is still in the market to purchase a hotel or apartment complex if it could be outfitted quickly to provide beds, said Eby.
“BC Housing is still looking at opportunities around purchase, including hotels, or other forms of underused housing that can be rapidly deployed,” he said.
“I feel quite confident we are going to hit the end of March deadline.”
BC Housing staff have interviewed more than 100 people currently sheltering in Victoria-area parks, with a goal to identify any specific housing needs and then work to fill them by March 31, said Eby.
After that, the government intends to keep a rolling stock of emergency shelter beds available in Victoria and Vancouver, with the expectation that the cities enforce their bylaws and prevent new encampments from springing up in local parks, he said.
The goal is “to ensure that we all within our respective spheres of authority are taking the steps necessary to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
“For the city in Victoria and city and park board in Vancouver, it really means when those spaces are available, and there is dignified indoor spaces for people, that they would enforce their bylaws to prevent people from camping in the park, and encourage them to the inside spaces,” added Eby.