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Tiny Town reopening aims to help Victoria’s homeless move forward in life

30-unit seacan community being revived after B.C. and city reach funding deal
Victoria’s seacan tiny home village will reopen to house those who have been staying in local shelters after the city and province struck a funding deal for the site. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

While working with B.C.’s social housing agency, Heidi Hartman has seen the weathered and malnourished faces that mark the physical toll living outside has on people, but also how that improves when they’re brought inside.

It’s why she’s excited about a deal Victoria and the province struck in February to reopen the Sea-Can tiny home village across from Royal Athletic Park.

The reopening offers a dual benefit by transitioning people from shelters into their own space, which in turn opens up 30 shelter beds for those who have been living outside, said Hartman, BC Housing’s associate vice-president of supportive housing and homelessness.

“We do hear from people that once they have that roof over their head, food in their belly, it creates the opportunity for them to move forward with their life,” explained Hartman.

“Whether it’s reconnecting with family or making connections within the community to find permanent housing solutions, so much good comes out of bringing people inside and giving them the supports they need.”

Those who have been staying in shelters for a long time will make up the incoming resident cohort, she added.

The 30-unit community located at 940 Caledonia Ave., formerly known as Tiny Town, will reopen as Caledonia Place and is set to operate from March until September 2025. The site previously housed people from May 2021 to last October, when it shut down after all of its residents moved into new purpose-built housing spaces.

Hartman, who was BC Housing’s regional director for Vancouver Island when Tiny Town first opened, said the community had some real successes and it reflected the need to get creative amid the province’s homelessness crisis.

At least 1,665 people were experiencing homelessness in Greater Victoria last year, according to the Point-in-Time homeless count. That figure is likely higher as it doesn’t count others who may be in need of housing, like couch surfers and those living in vehicles.

Asked why – given BC Housing, the province and Victoria are now touting Tiny Town’s benefits – a deal wasn’t struck earlier to keep it operating for the last four months, Hartman said they’re focusing on the positives of the interim living spaces reopening as longer-term housing options in the city are identified.

Under a memorandum of understanding between B.C. and Victoria, the province is putting $1.4 million into the operation of Caledonia Place, after it previously bought the seacan structures for $400,000. In return, the city has committed to identifying available land and expediting decisions for new shelter and supportive housing projects.

“We all know that encampments are not a safe place for people to live. This partnership will result in better homelessness response actions, so people can have access to appropriate supports and services quickly,” Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said in a news release.

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto added that the partnership underscores the city’s commitment to human-centred solutions for people experiencing homelessness.

Victoria police support the approach to find solutions for the city’s most vulnerable population, Chief Del Manak said in the release.

“We know that small, well-managed sites, like the former Tiny Town, can be safe for both those needing support and the neighbourhoods around them when they are appropriately located.”

Caledonia Place will fenced with a front gate and will be equipped with security cameras. The site will be staffed 24/7 as those workers will provide residents with life skills training, employment assistance, wellness checks and medical referrals.

BC Housing’s Hartman said when someone doesn’t have a fixed address, they constantly have to tow their personal belongings wherever they go. That makes it difficult to complete tasks others take for granted, like going to the grocery store, a job interview or a medical clinic.

“(Caledonia Place) creates the opportunity for them to have a place to put their belongings, a place to lay their head every night and work on the things they need to do to move forward with their lives.”

The shuttered seacan village at on Caledonia Avenue, formerly known as Tiny Town, will reopen to house those who have been staying in local shelters after the city and province struck a funding deal for the site. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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