B.C. hits ‘challenging’ shelter deadline to end Victoria camping

B.C. hits 'challenging' shelter deadline to end Victoria camping
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The B.C. government says it’s created just enough shelter spaces for everyone camping in Victoria parks, but it won’t be until mid-May until all the tents come down in areas like Beacon Hill Park.

Housing Minister David Eby said meeting an April 30 deadline to provide spaces to everyone sheltering in Victoria parks has been harder than expected, and the final outcome has produced fewer spaces than he’d hoped.

“It has been very challenging in Victoria,” he told CHEK News on Thursday.

“I thought Victoria would be easier than Vancouver to get spaces, but BC Housing has found the opposite. The good news is, though, that we believe we have the spaces we need to provide offers to everybody in the parks.”

There are 163 spaces available for 103 people on the housing waitlist, said Eby. Everyone will be offered a space by Friday.

That only leaves 60 extra spaces for any extra unhoused people as the summer progress. And that will shrink because some of the current shelter spaces are temporary, such as the 52 spaces at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre where the lease is set to expire at the end of May.

“In the near term, I’ll be frank, it’s much tighter than I’d like,” said Eby, who said his efforts to purchase hotels in Vancouver to find spaces to clear Vancouver’s Strathcona Park tent encampment has resulted in more than 200 extra spaces.

“We were not able to identify as many spaces as I wanted us to be able to do in Victoria, and that the government had budgeted to do. And there were a number of reasons for that – a number of sites that BC Housing looked at just were not suitable for one reason or another, or simply weren’t for sale. And so that has brought challenges.

“However, currently in the immediate term, we have enough spaces for everybody to have housing offered to come inside. And in the medium term, we have a lot of housing coming online. So I am hopeful that we will be able to bridge that period quite well.”

The City of Victoria has said it will enforce a ban on 24/7 camping in local parks by removing tents when they pop up after the deadline and only allowing them from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in the future.

However, the city has also said it won’t evict anyone camping in a park who is waiting for a spot to open at the Russel Street shelter (expected to open in the first week of May) or the tiny homes development at Royal Athletic Park (expected to open by mid-May).

The province also purchased the Capital City Centre hotel on Wednesday for $25 million, with plans to make permanent affordable housing at a site it had been leasing for shelter spaces. Eby said he does not consider the hotel, located at Douglas and Discovery Streets, to violate his promise not to place any additional shelter sites in the Burnside-Gorge community due to the disproportionately high number of motels and BC Housing projects in the area.

“It’s very clear that this is a site that is a temporary shelter that will be rebuilt into new affordable rental housing in the long-term,” he said. “It will not be in the state that it’s in on a go-forward basis.” Eby added that the province’s commitment to close the nearby Travelodge site at the end of the year “shows the commitment to the neighbourhood that we recognize that they have taken on a disproportionate amount of housing in responding to the homelessness crisis.”

The government is also still in the market to buy hotels, apartment buildings or other facilities it can turn into affordable long-term rental and housing projects, said Eby.

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Rob ShawRob Shaw

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