Temporary housing providing much-needed indoor shelter spaces is coming to the Victoria West neighbourhood.
The Province of B.C. announced Wednesday that it has s purchased a building on Russell Street that once renovated, will provide approximately 70 temporary indoor shelter spaces for people experiencing homelessness in Vic West.
Located near Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, the building is currently undergoing renovations to improve the site’s ability to operate as a temporary shelter and provide wraparound supports for residents.
Our Place Society will operate the building and provide support services including daily meals, access to sanitary and hygiene facilities, and storage for belongings. Staff will provide residents with access and referral to health and wellness programs.
“I spoke to two individuals today that have been staying in the [Save-On-Foods] arena since it has been re-opened and they actually have two interviews today for permanent housing, said Janine Theobald of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homlessness. “I think it’s demonstrative of this being a pathway.”
But some local residents are pushing back, saying the shelter was sprung on them, and that they feel it’s not the right fit for the neighbourhood.
“We don’t know what criteria they used in terms of selecting this particular site,” said Tony Young, a resident on Russell Street. “We do know other sites were considered. And when I say other sites I say in Vic West and other jurisdictions. I can only imagine the reasons they fell through.”
“Feeling fear is understandable,” said Theobald. “But I think we have to look at these other spaces where these kinds of locations are active right now, so for example we have “My Place” that is active right across the road from a middle school, and has been running successfully for a number of years.”
“The research shows over and over again that when people are living inside in a stable environment, they are safer, the community is safer, than if the same people are living outside in a park,” added Helps.
The temporary shelter will remain open for 18 months and, if needed, might be extended for an additional six months.
Following its use as a temporary shelter, BC Housing says it will “engage the community on a redevelopment proposal” for supportive housing, which will follow the municipal rezoning process.
“In order to hit our target of bringing everyone in tents in parks in Victoria inside by the end of April, this building is a necessary part of the plan,” said David Eby, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing. “While this purchase helps us reach our initial goal of dignified shelter by the end of next month, the site will also support our work to deliver stable, safe, long-term homes for people living in parks in Victoria when it is ultimately redeveloped.”
This purchase is part of the commitment between the Province and City of Victoria to move more than 200 people currently living in encampments indoors by April 30.
“These shelter spaces are an important investment in our community, as they provide opportunities for our most vulnerable to access health and wellness programs,” adds Grace Lor, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, said in a press release. “We are working hard to offer those camping in parks access to safe, indoor shelter, and this announcement goes a long way toward accomplishing this goal, which is great news for our community.”
Since January, the Province, City of Victoria and outreach workers say they’ve moved 116 people experiencing homelessness throughout Victoria into supportive housing units and shelter spaces. These spaces include Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre and the Capital City Centre Hotel.
Additionally, the Province says it has invested nearly $9.4 million for the purchase and renovation of the building, as well as approximately $2 million in annual operating costs.