B.C. announces hotel housing for Pandora and Topaz campers, advocates say more needs to be done

B.C. announces hotel housing for Pandora and Topaz campers, advocates say more needs to be done
WatchToday the province announced an ambitious project to relocate over one-thousand people fighting homelessness to hotels. Here in Victoria hundreds will be moved off Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park, to help them stay safe during both the COVID and Opioid crisis. Julian Kolsut has this story.

The province announced on Saturday a major step in housing homeless people in both Victoria and Vancouver during the COVID-19 crisis.

People living in encampments on Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park, along with Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, will be temporarily moved to hotels.

The province says it will help with the social distancing guidelines required, along with easing the dangers of the ongoing overdose crisis.

The province has secured  324 hotel spaces in Victoria, along with 686 hotel and community centre accommodations in Vancouver. The number is in addition to the more than 1,739 beds already secured across the province.

“We are at the confluence of two of the most challenging health emergencies our province had faced. And we cannot leave our most vulnerable behind. And the time to act is now,” said Mike Farnworth, B.C. minister of public safety and solicitor general.

RELATED: ‘This needs to be done carefully:’ Province to dismantle homeless camps at Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue

It’s a move Victoria’s mayor has been pushing for.

“I’ve been saying this for close to five weeks,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “Indoor solutions are important so that people who don’t have homes can follow doctor Bonnie Henry’s orders.”

Groups like the Portland Hotel Society will be helping move people off the street into their new temporary homes.

“The key is you want them to be successful,” said Avery Taylor of Victoria’s Portland Hotel Society.

“Ideally permanent housing you know, but we do recognize this is a very unique time.”

But housing is just one part of the battle.

There are still concerns plans aren’t in place to implement the provincially sanctioned safe supply of drugs.

However, the province says they’ve stepped up and have worked hard to get the message out to doctors and nurses.

“There will be dedicated resources that will work with the health teams and the housing teams on the ground in order to ensure those people who want to get access to safe prescription medications will be able to get it,” said Judy Darcy, the province’s minister of mental health and addictions on Saturday.

Officials acknowledge that there are still changes to be made, but advocates say a lot more needs to be done, including changes to the recent announcement.

They worry particularly about the use of a public safety order versus health order.

“A public safety order put in place that seems scary cause that usually leads to enforcement,” said Fred Cameron from Victoria’s SOLID organization.

“Where do you send them to? Without stripping people for their right to self-determination, how can you enforce that? You are going to pretty much set up a prison system in a hotel.”

Cameron also says many will still be left on the street.

The province says they are looking to secure more spaces, and are also working to secure permanent spaces.

Officials also made the promise that those housed would not end up back on the street after the pandemic. Victoria’s mayor along with provincial officials stressed it was a critical piece of the plan.

But some think it’s an impossible guarantee.

“Incredibly short-sighted to say something like that, life carries on for 365 days a year,” added Cameron.

But all sides do agree, it’s a major step in the right direction.

May 9 has been set as the deadline to transition people out of the encampments.

Julian KolsutJulian Kolsut

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