The City Center Hotel which helped bring many off Victoria’s streets sits mostly empty after a suspected arson incident on Thursday night.
Now 87 people that were being temporarily housed in the 84 leased rooms at the hotel are back in limbo.
“It’s beyond scary,” said one man who was housed after five years homeless.
“Like you just roll with the punches. And right where the fire is they say it is not structurally safe so our stuff is wherever.”
B.C housing says everyone inside has been given a roof over their head for the time being.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” said Heidi Hartman, B.C. Housing Regional Director for Vancouver Island.
“The good news is we have our housing plan in place, we have temporary accommodations so nobody will be displaced and will have some opportunity to receive housing and the meal programs they did.”
Fifty-three people were placed in hotels the night of the fire and Friday. The rest have been relocated either to shelters or are staying with family and friends.
B.C housing is not yet releasing what will happen next or how they got the extra rooms, but they say it came at a very bad time when spaces are needed more than ever.
“Concurrent to COVID, we have the opioid crisis, we know there continue to be folks sheltering in camps across various parks. So this makes this situation even more challenging,” said Hartman.
Our Place and the Red Cross are helping rehousing efforts.
“Losing access to 84 rooms is a real blow,” said Grant McKenzie from Our Place Society.
“Especially when we really struggling to find enough shelter space and housing space, we don’t know how long those rooms will be unavailable… it just makes it more frantic than before.”
With space at a premium, there are hopes the building will open back up soon
“The one saving grace is the fire appears to have been on the ground floor room… a lot of times if a fire happens on an upper floor it’s the water damage that hits the lower rooms,” said McKenzie.
“So we are hoping that more of those rooms can be open sooner rather than later.”
Exactly how long these critical rooms stay closed is unknown.
B.C. Housing says the fire started in a room that was not being leased by them. Victoria police say they responded after a man barricaded himself in the room.
B.C. Housing and Our Place say they hope the incident does not continue to create stigma regarding people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s not just a bunch of drug addicts and people who are mentally challenged or anything like this [in the building],” said the man displaced by the fire.
“This could have happened to anyone.”