'I don't care how it happens': Victoria calls on B.C. to acquire housing for homeless during COVID-19
VICTORIA -- The City of Victoria is calling on the B.C. government to acquire more indoor shelter for the city’s homeless population amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past month, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says that the city, BC Housing and Island Health have been working to provide accommodations for unsheltered Victorians.
So far, a temporary outdoor shelter at Topaz Park has been filled to maximum capacity, while dozens of people remain camped along Pandora Avenue and at Beacon Hill Park.
Now, Victoria council is calling on the province to requisition hotels and motels, or secure alternative indoor sheltering options, to house the city’s homeless.
“I don’t care how it happens, just get people inside,” Helps said at a briefing Thursday.
Victoria’s mayor acknowledged, however, that hotel and motel operators may have concerns about housing vulnerable people in their properties.
She also noted that adequate medical and mental health supports were required at indoor housing facilities, which can be challenging to arrange.
“What won’t work is [just] taking people from Pandora and Topaz and putting them in the Empress [Hotel], that won’t work,” said Helps.
“What will work is taking people from Topaz and Pandora and putting them inside the Empress, or whatever other hotel, with fair compensation for motel owners and hotel owners – with guarantees that the properties would be returned in the same condition in which they were leased and most importantly with healthcare supports for the people moving in.”
Helps said BC Housing has been in contact with 25 motels and hotels across the city to try to voluntarily secure sheltering. So far, 195 rooms have been acquired.
Meanwhile, Helps noted that providing for Victoria’s most vulnerable populations would benefit the community both financially, and in terms of health-care resources.
“If we don’t take care of the most vulnerable people in our community those people will be competing for the same ICU beds and other health resources that we all rely on,” she said.
On Thursday, the city announced that it would be providing outreach groups with $50,000 to help frontline workers provide services for unsheltered people.
Victoria is also taking further measures to ensure physical distancing is being practiced at city parks.
Parking will be restricted near the Gonzales Beach Park area at the intersection of Foul Bay Road and Crescent Road and vehicle parking at Beacon Hill Park will also be closed on weekends.
While pedestrian and bicycle traffic remains open in these areas, the city will also install additional signage reminding people to practice physical distancing.