The B.C. government has spent more than $126 million in the past year trying to house those sheltering in Greater Victoria parks, an extraordinary investment that dwarfs any other single-year spending on the issue in the area in recent history.
“It’s unprecedented,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. “It’s not just verbal and financial support, it really is a true partnership, we are in constant contact with (Housing Minister David Eby) and his office, both at the staff level and a political level.
“There’s a shared sense that we’re going put our shoulder to the wheel together and make things move.”
The money has opened approximately 300 shelter spaces in the past 14 months, including at temporary locations like the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, as well has been used to renovate sites, install beds and showers, operate and staff the locations, and provide rent supplements.
In exchange for the money and shelter spaces, the City of Victoria has begun enforcing a ban on 24/7 camping in local parks. Tougher enforcement is expected later this week once final shelter spaces are open at a tiny homes shelter at Royal Athletic Park.
B.C. Housing compiled the figures at the request of CHEK News. They show the government spent $94.6 million in the fiscal year between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.
The province in April purchased the Capital City Centre Hotel for $25 million, as well as purchased a commercial site at 225 Russell Street in Vic West for $9.4 million (of which $2.5 million is being held back until future redevelopment is finished).
The total, $126.5 million, is roughly double what government spent responding in 2016 to a tent encampment behind the Victoria court house, in which it purchased several properties and converted a youth custody centre in View Royal to housing.
Housing Minister David Eby said the funding, though extraordinary, was not difficult to find because he had the backing of Premier John Horgan, who is the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca.
“I’ve had a lot of support from the premier on this in particular,” said Housing Minister David Eby.
“There’s a real commitment… to really take a run at getting ahead of the homelessness issue, to stop being reactive to encampments and start moving upstream. The only way we can do that is to deal with the major encampments, and even some of the smaller encampments around the province, and then be able to move upstream.
“There are lots of people in these encampments that have been homeless for a long time. The issue has been neglected for too long.”
Helps said the money is “just the tip of the iceberg” for what’s required long-term to create the appropriate affordable housing. The goal is to achieve what’s called “functional zero,” she said.
“What that means is that if somebody falls into homelessness because they’ve lost their job or they’ve been evicted or they’re leaving a violent situation, that there is a space in the system to catch them,” she said.
“So it doesn’t mean that people don’t become homeless but functional zero means that there’s enough space in the system. All of the purchases that have been made, and the supportive housing units that are coming, will probably bring us close to functional zero.
“There’s more data to be crunched on that, so and probably a few more units to be built. But yes, I’m optimistic.”
The City of Victoria spent approximately $1.6 million on sheltering during the pandemic, with an additional $1.8 million earmarked for the current year.
The $126 million spent by the B.C. government on homelessness in Victoria is in addition to almost $250 million reportedly spent on the issue in Vancouver.