Victoria approves $300K to move homeless into hotels, possibly outside of the city

Victoria approves $300K to move homeless into hotels, possibly outside of the city
WatchThe number of homeless campers in Victoria parks continues to grow after two tent cities were shut down in the city earlier this month. Yesterday, city council decided to pay for hotel rooms for the remaining campers itself.

Victoria City Council has passed a motion to designate $300,000 towards housing the city’s homeless in hotels and motels, especially those still camping in Beacon Hill Park.

The city, supported by the province, moved many of those living in Topaz Park and on Pandora Avenue into hotels in Victoria to help members of the vulnerable community stay safe and separated amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The motion put forth by Coun. Ben Isitt and Coun. Jeremy Loveday on Thursday directs city staff to start booking hotel and motel rooms across Greater Victoria for the remaining people sheltering outdoors in the City of Victoria.

“It’s a little bit different than previously motions,” explained Isitt. “In that, it gets staff to look at hotels and motels across and throughout the Capital Region. So if these rooms are being secured at market rates, not limiting the search to the City of Victoria, so seeing if there are options elsewhere in the region.”

The cost of housing those still living on the streets will be covered by drawing from unspent funds from $300,000 in previously approved COVID-19 response funding.

The city also plans to partner with organizations to offer housing with appropriate social care and health care services, and with the informed consent of people to be housed.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who was not present for Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting, will write to the provincial government, asking for immediate action to help find homes for the homeless across the province.

Another part of the plan is to ensure the homeless population has continued access to handwashing facilities and washrooms close to authorized outdoor sheltering locations on a 24-hour basis.

The city’s plan also includes continuing to fund the shower facilities at Our Place.

The motion was eventually passed, but it was not a unanimous decision. Council debated the motion for more than 50 minutes before a split vote was made.

Coun. Marianne Alto raised concerns about taking away spaces needed for housing the homeless in other regions if they were to be filled with Victoria residents.

“I strongly believe that municipalities need to step in in the endeavour, and do not want to interfere with them doing so,” explained Alto.

This idea was mirrored by Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who says people in other regions need help too, but from where they are and where they want to be.

Coun. Geoff Young was against the motion, saying it overlooks the issue of the conditions of the hotel rooms once the hotel needs them back.

“As we know, there was difficulty in entering enough hotel rooms, mostly because hotel owners who were planning on operating again as a hotel, they were concerned their property would be damaged,” said Young.

“I’m sure that BC Housing has had to make guarantees to owners in terms of restoring hotel rooms to their previous condition at the end of their occupancy, and in some cases, they’ve just had to go ahead and buy buildings.”

READ MORE: Provincial government buys Victoria hotel to provide 65 rooms for homeless

Young said the “naive” notion might tax the city’s resources, as well as paint the wrong kind of picture for Victoria.

“‘Come to Victoria, get a free hotel room’ is working against everything we want to achieve,” explained Young.

Coun. Sarah Potts opposed Young’s view.

“No level of homelessness is acceptable,” said Potts. “We have not even begun to reach the folks we know are unhoused in Victoria. We need to look to end it, and to stop pointing to folks coming from other regions.”

Coun. Sharmarke Dubow says not supporting those coming into Victoria reminds him of when he immigrated to Canada, and saw many other countries reject newcomers.

“It really reminds me of the notion of countries closing their borders, and that pushback,” said Dubow

He says the city needs to advocate for the province to help homeless people in all regions of B.C.

The motion was eventually passed, signed by Isitt, Loveday, Potts and Dubow, and starting immediately city staff are to start looking for hotel rooms for Victoria’s homeless to stay, anywhere across the Capital Region.

Rebecca LawrenceRebecca Lawrence
April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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