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A future with a shelter
Many business owners in Rock Bay may fear the coming of a new homeless shelter to Ellice Street, but not Ike de Jong.
“I really feel that we need to provide a place for this situation,” said de Jong Friday, after the project cleared its last major hurdle at city council.
Few businesses will be as close as de Jong’s – his back wall will touch the rear of the new shelter. A former cop, an ordained minister and one-time president of the Upper Room soup kitchen, de Jong’s support for the shelter is grounded in personal philosophy.
“We are not here for ourselves, we are here to help other people that are misfortunate. And these people have a great need and we have an opportunity here,” he said.
De Jong wasn’t the only neighbouring business owner to speak in favour of the shelter Thursday, but he was in the minority. Of the 33 people who came to address Victoria city council during a five-hour public hearing, 21 asked that the project be stopped.
Most opposed echoed the same set of concerns: the shelter will bring chaos to the area’s streets, a lack of public consultation in choosing the site meant better options couldn’t come forward, and the area can’t afford to lose even a small, under-used park.
In the end, council approved removing the park from the city’s inventory, rezoning the land and amending the Official Community Plan to let the site plans for 82 shelter bed shelter with 24 supportive housing go ahead. Two councillors, Geoff Young and Pamela Madoff voted against.
Despite being outspokenly opposed to the project early in the process, Karin Macaulay, president of the Centennial Day Care board of directors, didn’t address council.
“I didn’t feel like we were going to add to the long stream (of speakers). We had the same issues,” she said. “All businesses are going to be affected. Safety is an issue, the process has been faulty. How many times can you say that?”
Located less than 100 metres away from the future shelter, the daycare will be forced to move when the shelter opens, she fears. The non-profit centre has started to search for a new home, but hasn’t found something large enough.
In the meantime, it will stay open in its present location. And while the daycare will work with Cool Aid on a good-neighbour agreement, Macaulay is skeptical a shelter and a daycare can co-exist so close together.
“I think it would be very difficult to take a group of children off through the neighbourhood for a walk (if) you’ve got people hanging out and lying in the streets,” she said.
Jack Colbert, who co-owns a building two doors down from the park, told councillors the shelter could be the first step in creating “Victoria’s East side.” Not only did council not appear to have heard the message, he added, he can’t be sure if his tenants – an autobody restorer and a rehearsal studio – are going to stay.
Colbert said his property value is certainly about to plummet.
“If you look at it 10 years from now … I think you may well find those businesses are all gone,” he said.
But de Jong, who knew drug users and prostitutes by name during his time with the Upper Room, said his business is staying put, even if the shelter brings street problems.
“I say to my neighbours that we need to work together to find solutions,” he said.
“There’s always going to be street people, there’s always going to be homelessness and we need to somehow work together to protect our businesses, but also to maintain some kind of responsibility to our community.”