B.C. fails to meet deadline to house those sheltering in Victoria parks

B.C. fails to meet deadline to house those sheltering in Victoria parks
A tent housing some Beacon hill Campers is shown in this 2020 file photo.

B.C. will fail to meet its much-anticipated deadline to house people sheltering in Victoria parks by March 31.

Attorney General David Eby, who is also the minister responsible for housing, said Thursday that the province and BC Housing need more time after failing to secure hotels or other buildings required to house the homeless.

“We were hopeful… that BC housing would be able to secure a building that was ready to go for housing specifically a hotel or a similar kind of building where we can move people in right away,” Eby told journalists Thursday.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get lucky.”

Comes after several weeks of Eby expressing confidence he could meet the deadline.

BC Housing has acquired two sites that “require significant additional retrofitting to prepare them for use as emergency shelters” and needs extra time.

Locations have not been revealed.

— Rob Shaw (@RobShaw_BC) March 11, 2021

The province did secure two additional sites that were undisclosed Thursday but will need “significant additional retrofitting” before they are ready to act as shelters, according to the government. Once operational, the locations will be staffed 24/7 with services that include health, meal programs and skills training.

Eby told the media that the spaces were “bare” and will require the construction of cubicles similar to those used at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena to provide shelter for 70 individuals.

The new deadline is now April 30.

The province and City of Victoria had been working to house as many as 190 people who have been sheltering in city parks, such as Beacon Hill Park. The strategy had been to add additional rental supplements, open Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre as an emergency shelter and find other spaces in the system to meet the demand.

Eby said government was unwilling to pay above-market value for hotels in Victoria as an option.

“While there’s a huge desire to get this done, paying prices well over appraised value, paying more than we should, was not an option and so we had to revisit that plan,” Eby told reporters Thursday.

With the changes, Eby said the province has the following shelter spaces available or in development:

  • 45 spaces at Save-on-Foods Memorial centre
  • 5 spaces at a youth hostel
  • 52 spaces at the Capital City Centre former hotel
  • 20 spaces involving the Victoria Cool-Aid Society
  • 30 spaces at the tiny homes shipping container project in the parking lot of Royal Athletic Park
  • 70 spaces at the two new undisclosed hotels

That breakdown gives Victoria 177 shelter spaces, said Eby. When you add 50 rent supplements, which will also free up spaces in other shelters locally, he said the government has created 227 unit spaces.

The new deadline will have ramifications for the City of Victoria’s efforts to clear local parks.

Eby said the city has agreed to enforce a new no-camping bylaw, in exchange for all the provincial support in finding new housing spaces.

“That doesn’t mean that in future there aren’t going to be people setting up tents in a park or someone who’s homeless on a sidewalk or these kinds of things in Victoria,” he said.

“What we’re going to see is that we’re going to have enough spaces, so that bylaw officers can go up to those folks and say, we have space to get you inside. And you can stay there, but you can’t stay here.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said despite the delay it is “fantastic news” that the province has found enough spaces.

“It’s going to take a little bit of extra time to get those spaces open,” she said. “We are deeply grateful to the province for this partnership. It’s been unprecedented.”

City council was set to debate a motion to end a bylaw that allowed unhoused people to camp in certain parks 24/7 during the pandemic.

Although the motion was set to return to the pre-pandemic practice of only allowing tenting from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. as of March 31, Helps said it will likely be adjusted by council this afternoon to match the new provincial deadline of April 30.

Parks are not homes,” said Helps. “Beacon hill Park is not a campground. It is a temporary shelteriung situation in an emergency. So after may 1 we’re going to do the same thing we did pre-pandemic which is enforce the bylaws.”

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