With shelters in Victoria operating at a 120 per cent capacity, the need for supportive housing has never been stronger. But Don McTavish with the Victoria Cool Aid Society believes they may have found the perfect building to provide more housing and ease the strain on city shelters.
The former Mount Edwards Court Care Home in Fairfield is now being eyed by Cool Aid for a low barrier, supportive housing project.
Located at 1002 Vancouver St., the facility was formerly used as an 80-room residential building for seniors. One of the many reasons it appeals to Cool Aid is that it has a courtyard for clients to relax outside and feel part of the community, and the building is already set up with small units complete with two-piece bathrooms, staff rooms, a built-in kitchen, dining area and lounge.
“Renovations to a building like this aren’t that difficult to do because it’s already laid out in such a way that people can have their own small spaces,” said McTavish, adding the building is close to amenities resident already frequent downtown.
“It’s a pretty good fit. It’s similar to what we would build if we have the choice, plus it’s been in the neighbourhood for a long time…There’s not many buildings like this around.”
According to McTavish, the proposed project is different from other shelters like Rock Bay Landing (which is used night by night) in that it’s a housing program like its buildings on Pandora and Swift Street that will have a more stable population of 80 to 100 people.
Low barrier housing means there isn’t a requirement for people to be living clean lives in order to access support services such as life skills training, medical care and rehabilitation programs, as long as they don’t engage in drug or alcohol activities in common areas.
A minimum of two staff will be on site. The goal is to build a community, added McTavish, which includes a mix of people with various needs.
But not everyone is on board.
Despite having conversations with immediate neighbours — like Christ Church Cathedral School (located across the street), which serves 190 children aged three to 14 — several concerns still linger.
The board of directors for the Christ Church Cathedral Educational Society once aimed to achieve mutual goals and address issues proactively, but is now opposed to the proposal following a meeting that left many feeling the project would have a significant impact on students.
A coalition of residents, property owners, seniors and parents (called the Mount Edwards Community Awareness Coalition) has also formed, voicing concerns over the safety of the neighbourhood if a number of residents with mental health problems and addictions move in.
Specifically, the coalition is concerned about the location, size and scope of the proposed housing, along with the amount of staff to resident ratio compared to similar facilities elsewhere. It also claims there hasn’t been an adequate level of meaningful consultation with local residents.
“Fairfield has more supportive housing than any other area in Victoria and everyone in this group is proud of that. It’s part of our diversity and what makes it interesting,” said coalition chair Emory Haines, a member of the diocese who’s done outreach work in the community. The more he learned about the project, however, the more he became convinced it wasn’t a good proposal.
“Nobody in this group has ever spoken out about any supportive housing or any facilities in the area because those facilities are appropriately sized and staffed. We are really concerned because this one isn’t…We don’t think this proposal makes sense anywhere.”
McTavish admits Cool Aid doesn’t have all the answers right now, but he doesn’t believe there’s no such thing as an inappropriate location for supportive housing when the right supports are in place and the facility is designed well. He noted that a similar, much larger building in Vancouver is located across the street from a school and has no issues. He’s also toured an addiction recovery building in Portland that shares a large park with a daycare, and Cool Aid’s 112-unit on Pandora has pre schoolers coming into the gym every morning. McTavish has also repeatedly heard such housing should be built in a residential area in order to introduce homeless people into the community — a task he said is often difficult because of fears from both the public and homeless.
“Our clients are a little nervous about being out in public. I think people feel invisible, they feel ignored, they feel marginalized, not welcome so that’s not a great place to come from,” said McTavish. “We’re just in desperate need of a whole range of housing and supportive housing is one of those categories so this is huge…It can be done well. We want to work with them (the community) to do it well and to make sure it is a well run, safe example of a community coming together.”
The project is still not a done deal. The cost to purchase the property is $3.5 million. So far, Cool Aid has raised $1.8 million and has until the end of February to come up with the additional $1.7 million. The total cost, including renovation is $9 million.