With no end in sight to Victoria’s rental housing crisis, the city’s mayor wants residents to consider opening their hearts – and bedrooms – to those struggling to find a home.

Lisa Helps says she’s working with citizens and businesses to look at creating a program that would connect people with spare rooms with those who need a place to stay.

She likened it to a similar effort made during the Second World War, when Victoria residents billeted strangers relocated to help with the local war effort.

“They didn’t call it the ‘sharing economy,’ they didn’t charge anything, they just opened up their spare bedrooms and invited strangers in,” Helps wrote on her blog

She said with a 0.5 per cent rental vacancy rate, the city’s current rental housing crisis is preventing working citizens from being able to find a home – and that calls for out-of-the-box ideas.

“There are working people living in their cars, there are working people living in woodsheds,” she told CTV News. “There’s lot of cranes in there and housing being built, but in the meantime there’s a shortage.”

Helps emphasized that the idea is just in exploratory discussions and isn’t a city project.

“This is me working with a group of citizens trying to nurture creative ideas that are coming forward to fix the crisis,” she said. “We’ll see what the need is, we’ll see what people suggest would be good ideas and we’ll go from there.”

The director of Our Place Society said he was happy to hear of Helps’ proposal, but it would all come down to the vetting process.

“I think it can work with some members of the population. When people are suffering from poverty…those are people that really need that hand up and a spare room can just be the next start,” said Grant McKenzie.

“The one challenge we will have is with the mental health and addiction aspect of some of the people who’re on the street. That would take a more vigorous screening process to make sure that those people are stable enough.”

McKenzie added there are still plenty of people stable enough to billet who’ve simply “fallen through the cracks” in the housing-starved city.

But with tent city fresh in the minds of many, some say there’s no way the idea could work.

Former Victoria city councillor Shellie Gudgeon said she was “stunned” when she heard about it, because billeting homeless could pose possible danger to homeowners.

“Sadly, it’s very dangerous and it’s very naïve,” she said. ““We all have neighbours who need some extending of the hand and helpfulness, but just random strangers on the street…we need balance and we need boundaries, and I think [Helps] may need to rethink this proposal.”

Helps admits crucial security, insurance and logistical questions would need to be worked out, but the response she’s received so far has been positive.

After she posted to Facebook looking for three people currently living in vehicles, on couches or in woodsheds as well as three people who may be willing to open their homes – it was the homeowners who came forward first.

“What’s shocking is in the response to the Facebook post, I thought that what we’d get first are people who need homes. What I’ve got first are people who have homes to offer, so the generosity has come before the need in this case,” she said.

Asked if she would open up her own house to homeless, Helps said as mayor, she isn’t able to as she’s dealing with confidential information at all times of the day and night – but would be open to it as a civilian. 

With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Chandler Grieve