More than 90 people have been moved from off the streets and into a room of their own at the Comfort Inn.
“One man told me he took seven baths in two days,” says Grant McKenzie, communications director for Our Place Society, adding that having a private bathroom is “quite something” for many of the residents.
Our Place Society partnered with BC Housing to run the Comfort Inn, which was purchased by the province to provide more affordable housing to people in Victoria.
“The first thing you notice is the anxiety, which everyone has when the move — you don’t really know what you’re getting in to or how you’ll be treated,” says McKenzie. “But after the first night, we’ve seen that feeling deflate, it’s mellowed right down and people are starting to see how much better it is.”
Taking a walk down Pandora Avenue, the street is quiet and there are no tents sprawled along the boulevard — a far different picture from just last week as the deadline to move into hotels came and went. McKenzie says he doesn’t know when the metal fencing that has blocked off the boulevard will come down, but he’s looking forward to it going back to normal.
In the days leading up to the May 20 deadline, tents and campers were packed along the avenue which McKenzie says caused a bit of fear among the other demographics Our Place serves.
“We have a lot of seniors coming in, the working poor comes in, people who are spending all their money on rent and have nothing left for food, and they stopped coming to Our Place,” he says. “So once things are cleaned up, I’m expecting to see those people come back.”
And while there are still people who are living outside, Victoria city council passed a motion that would defer enforcement of a bylaw that only allows people to shelter in parks from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., allowing people to camp there 24 hours a day until June 25. The motion excludes Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue and directs bylaw staff not to remove shelters or belongings that are abandoned or unoccupied until 72 hours after they’ve been tagged.
The City of Victoria also purchased two properties on Pandora Avenue for almost $10 million, as part of the city’s plan to address affordable housing.
McKenzie says Our Place has not been in any discussions with the city about how the land will be used, but that they would be extremely interested in sitting down and discussing the site’s potential. McKenzie also says the Comfort Inn, which sits on three acres of land, will be assessed after the pandemic and could be developed into an affordable housing community.