Sooke community centre to become temporary homeless shelter

Sooke community centre to become temporary homeless shelter
WatchFor the first time on Vancouver Island, BC Housing has leased a community centre as a temporary homeless shelter. April Lawrence reports.

It was quiet outside the Capital Regional District’s SEAPARC Leisure Complex in Sooke Tuesday morning but inside work was underway to transform it from an arena to a homeless shelter.

“This is intended to be a transitional stabilization unit for those people,” said Jen Wilde, the director of oerations for the COVID-response isolation shelter.

Forty-five local homeless people will be housed at the facility—30 will be housed inside and another 15 in tents outside.

“So we can meet the needs of those who aren’t ready to come inside as of yet, but the hope is to get the majority of them through the indoor location,” said Wilde, who also runs the region’s Extreme Weather Protocol.

There will be staff and services on site.

“Things such as food and clothing and laundering and showering, our intention is to be able to get their basic needs met for a period of eight to 10 weeks and get them grounded enough we can support them with appropriate sheltering options,” she said.

Those who run the SEAPARC facility say the deal with BC Housing does not include access to the $3.5 million dollar gymnasium expansion which was finished just a few months ago. The lease runs until June 30.

“They’re renting it and if there’s any damage or problems with that then BC Housing is on the hook for that,” said Al Beddows, SEAPARC Commission Chair and District of Sooke Councillor.

Wilde says most of Sooke’s homeless population is isolated, individually setting up camp in bushes and forests around the community. But with COVID-19, there’s a concern for their safety and for the outreach workers trying to help them.

“They would have to step up and go out and try to meet them where they’re at and that of course poses a risk and a challenge for those individuals serving that community as well,” she said.

Some who live in the area say they’re happy to see people moved indoors.

“This could be a very positive thing, get them inside,” said Sooke resident Carol Connors.

But Connors also worries those who live directly around the facility might see some of the same issues with crime that Victoria is seeing around its Topaz Park homeless camp.

READ MORE: Neighbours call for shut down of Topaz homeless camp as Victoria police see jump in crime

“I fear for the neighbours if they come here because there are houses, the theft, vandalism and that kind of thing,” she said.

But Sooke’s mayor says both the Sooke RCMP and the Sooke Fire Department are on board and that the SEAPARC shelter is organized and well-planned.

“I trust those involved will ensure that any concerns the community might have will be quickly addressed,” said Mayor Maja Tait.

It’s the first community centre on Vancouver Island that BC Housing has dedicated as a shelter during this pandemic.

“This is Sooke looking after Sooke, we’ve got some wonderful people here and we’ll get it done,” said Beddows.

All 45 spaces have already been claimed. The shelter is set to open in a week or two once enough staff can be hired.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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