In response to the growing number of tents pitched outside the Victoria courthouse, the provincial government plans to provide $380,000 to fund a new 40-bed temporary shelter with the city and Island Health.
According to a spokesperson for the ministry responsible for housing, the province is looking at locations and hopes to have one identified shortly. The timing will depend on any modifications required and zoning.
“Discussions are taking place with a potential operator and we anticipate the shelter will operate 24/7 and provide meals and other supports,” said Sandra Steilo, adding the shelter will operate until the end of April. “Shelter staff will assess people once they have been moved to the shelter and relocate them to appropriate housing and health services.”
More than 50 homeless people are now camping in the green space outside the city’s courthouse on Burdett Avenue. The property is owned by the province, therefore police need a request to move campers. Bylaws for city parks only allow sheltering between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.
With no police forcing campers to pack up and leave every morning, the green space is growing popular among the homeless. The province hasn’t said whether any action will be taken to make them move, but portable washrooms and garbage cans have since been delivered to the site.
Those who live nearby, however, claim there’s been a spike in crime as more tents arrive.
Victoria currently has 150 year-round shelter spaces and another 145 that open during extreme weather. But the city’s homeless population is estimated to be more than 1,000, leaving many people outside in the cold.
Carole James, NDP MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, has been part of discussions with municipalities searching for short term and long term solutions to the homeless problem.
When she first heard about the tent city blooming outside the courthouse, James felt angry. The problem, she said, can be attributed to years of cutbacks in social services support, community support and affordable housing instead of investmenting when they were needed.
“This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. We’ve been seeing people camped in parks in Victoria and I guess I have to ask myself, when did it become acceptable?” said James. “There are years of not building a range of affordable housing by the province and federal government. I think many of us, including myself, have said for years that the real answer is build more affordable housing.”
Earlier this week, the province announced construction is underway on a new 108-unit mixed income affordable rental apartment complex near downtown.
Located at 105 Wilson St., the building, named Wilson’s Walk, will include 84 affordable rental apartments and 24 market apartments. The B.C. government provided land for the project and will arrange close to $19 million in construction financing.
The city will provide $840,000 and the Capital Regional District’s Regional Housing Trust Fund will chip in more than $1.2 million. Pacifica Housing Advisory Association will manage and operate the new building, slated for completion by early 2017.