‘We want everybody to have a single room:’ Homeless campers on Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park moves into hotel

'We want everybody to have a single room:' Homeless campers on Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park moves into hotel

A total of 93 people from Victoria’s homeless population have moved off the streets and into hotel rooms at the Comfort Inn.

“Having a door that you can lock, having a bathroom that you don’t have to share with other people, having a bath for the first time in a long time, those are really big luxuries for people,” said Grant McKenzie, director of communications at Our Place Society. “I heard one guy who said he had seven baths in two days because it’s just such a luxury.”

It’s part of B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing drug crisis. The province purchased the building at 3020 Blanshard St. earlier this month for about $18.5 million dollars in an effort to evacuate the encampments on Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park. The hotel will be operated by B.C. Housing in partnership with Our Place Society.

RELATED: Victoria Police say arrests have been made as efforts to remove homeless population on Pandora Avenue continue

“From the time it was purchased to the time we opened the housing, it was a matter of days,” said Heidi Hartman, B.C. housing’s regional director for Vancouver Island. “But the conversations were very intense. We needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and this property created the opportunity to be able to provide much-needed housing.”

The hotel rooms have been modified slightly to accommodate those moving in. Most rooms used to have two beds, but now, there will only be one per room.

“We want everybody to have a single room,” McKenzie said, adding that couples are allowed to share a bed but will have separate rooms in case they have difficulties with their relationship.

“But we left the televisions in there and they also have mini-fridge in there. They have a little table and they’re very nice, beautifully maintained rooms.”

Residents also aren’t allowed to have guests.

Redd’s Roadhouse Pub on the second floor will be turned into a supervised consumption site. Outreach workers will monitor users on the patio through a glass window.

“We’re dealing with people that have severe addiction issues and they are going to use,” said McKenzie. “So what we want to do is make sure they’re using in a safe environment, an environment that we can monitor, because we don’t want people dying in their rooms.”

Residents will be provided with meals, healthcare services, and addictions treatment and harm reduction.

The hotel will be staffed around the clock, with 24-hour security for the building and the surrounding neighbourhood.

“Our goal is to integrate well into the community,” said Hartman. “We want to be a good neighbour and we want to be responsive to what the concerns are.”

B.C. Housing will also set up a community advisory committee to integrate the housing into the community and address any concerns the people in the neighbourhood may have.

More than 200 homeless people from the encampments have been moved into safe, temporary accommodations since April but Hartman says there’s still more work that needs to be done.

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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