The B.C. government is moving almost 50 unhoused people from makeshift shelter spaces at the Save-on-Foods Memorial arena in Victoria to make way for an international basketball tournament at the site on June 29.
The province has secured a 12 month lease at the unused Mount Tolmie Hospital on Cedar Hill Cross Road and Richmond Road, which it says can be used as housing until more permanent spaces are found.
“The good news about the hospital is everyone is going to get their own private room,” said Attorney General David Eby, who is also the minister responsible for housing.
“The challenges of the site is that it obviously needs some kind of redevelopment… The current agreement is for a one year period and the reason for the one year is Victoria is going to be opening a significant number of supportive housing units over the next 18 months and people will be able to mover into permanent housing from this site.”
The move starts today, relocating at least 43 of the more than 50 residents to the new Mount Tolmie site, while others will go to “other existing sites in the Capital Regional District,” according to the province.
Staff from the Portland Hotel Society’s Community Services Society will transition with the residents, and Island Health will move harm-reduction and health care services to the new site as well. The move will allow residents, who have already begun to establish a sense of community at the arena, to remain together, said Eby.
“This is yet another example of the power of partnerships and how much we can accomplish by working together,” said Victoria mayor Lisa Helps.
“I’m grateful for the continued outpouring of support for housing and providing supports for the most vulnerable members of our communities.”
The B.C. government has spent more than $126 million in the past year purchasing shelter sites in Greater Victoria to deal with the rising number of camps in local parks during the pandemic.
The more than 300 new spaces have helped the city reduce the number of tents and shelters in local parks from a high of more than 200 earlier this year to as few as three last month.
Helps wrote in a blog post over the weekend the city is close to a “functional zero” homeless situation, where the system has enough capacity to catch people and offer them housing without resorting to park spaces.
The city is now enforcing a ban on 24/7 camping in local parks, and last week passed a two-year ban on camping at Beacon Hill Park.
The move from the arena will allow the International Basketball Federation to host its Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the arena, which will be outfitted with the championship floor that the Toronto Raptors won their NBA championship on in 2019.
Canada’s men’s basketball team hasn’t qualified for an Olympics since 2000, and the Victoria tournament marks its last chance to secure a spot in the Tokyo games. The tournament will see players from Greece, Uruguay, China, Czech Republic and Turkey.