Don Johnson lives in a close-knit building where he feels supported and understood.
“And they don’t treat you like you’re homeless,” he said.
The 66 year old, who has a brain injury, said he’s gone through some rough times but has found a welcoming community at Mount Edwards Court on Vancouver Street, on the edge of the Rockland neighbourhood.
“They help me out, I help them out. I like to walk down the hall, and everybody says ‘hi.’”
Johnson sits on his bed in a small, but tidy bachelor suite. He is well put-together, wearing a black blazer and slacks, his hair is neat and he has a big smile on his face.
The staff are very supportive, he said. Today, they helped him pick an outfit for a job interview – Johnson said he has a degree in hotel management and the interview was in that field.
“They understand where you’re coming from. They don’t look at you like …” he said, trailing off.
Johnson is one of 32 current residents of Mount Edwards Court, which city council approved for a new housing use by the Victoria Cool Aid Society, after a busy public hearing Thursday.
More than 40 people voiced a mix of opposition and support for the controversial rezoning application, the details of which were presented to council by Cool Aid CEO Kathy Stinson.
Cool Aid plans to convert the former seniors home and temporary housing for tent city residents into 78 supportive and 15 affordable rental housing units for adults 55 and older with low to moderate support needs. Residents will be screened using B.C. Housing’s vulnerability assessment tool. Only those with no known history of violence and no current substance abuse issues will be accepted at the building, which will have at least three staff on site 24/7 and a controlled entry.
But many neighbours, parents and representatives of Christ Church Cathedral School across the street were not convinced Thursday that the safeguards would be enough.
“Poverty is the true concern of this city,” said Samantha Stone, whose children attend the private school. “Addiction, even monitored, is another. As a parent, I’m wondering when safety for children, for seniors and for neighbours will also register?”
Michael Geoghegan, a government and media consultant who ran for Saanich council last month, said supportive housing across the street from a school posed potential dangers for children.
“This is inherently risky. I believe it is criminally irresponsible to put housing like this near a school,” he said.
Other hearing attendees supported Cool Aid’s application. Alison Acker, 89, who lives in James Bay and is on the Committee to End Homelessness Victoria, said it seemed like a good home for the seniors.
“I feel very badly when others are afraid of poor people or the homeless. I don’t know what’s happened to them in their past or why they should fear them or their presence,” she said.
“I don’t think children should grow up thinking the world is a pretty, nice place for everybody. It’s not.”
Only Coun. Geoff Young opposed the rezoning application when put to a vote. Coun. Charlayne Thornton Joe acknowledged the community’s misgivings, but voted in favour of the project.
“People have expressed fear for their children, and I respect that,” she said. “This council has said our goal is to solve the issue of homelessness. One of the [steps in] solving the issue of homelessness is providing homes, and this is an opportunity that’s been placed before us.”
Renovations on the second floor of the building are underway and Cool Aid has already begun transitioning its resident mix into an older age demographic. The third floor, where the affordable rental units would be, requires major renovations and may not be ready until early 2019.