Victoria's Royal Athletic Park no longer a temporary shelter site during COVID-19 pandemic
Hundreds of tents, sleeping bags, tarps and other supplies have been donated to those staying at the Topaz Park temporary homeless shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic: April 7, 2020 (CTV News)
VICTORIA -- The City of Victoria will no longer use Royal Athletic Park as a temporary site for the homeless during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Island Health says it has decided, in collaboration with city staff and BC Housing, to "prioritize temporary indoor sheltering across a variety of sites" instead of the original plan to use the park as a location to set up tents for the homeless.
"These [indoor] sites will also provide services such as washrooms/hygiene, and social and health care supports as required, including harm reduction," the health authority said Wednesday.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says that BC Housing has secured two sites, which will provide a total of 160 rooms for homeless Victorians to stay in.
So far, BC Housing has referred a total of 115 people to the hotel room spaces.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says that the people living on Pandora Avenue will be prioritized and be moved indoors first.
"Island Health and BC Housing will be working hard to move everyone [that is] outside into indoor appropriate sheltering," said Helps.
"I don’t want to give false expectations, that move cannot happen overnight," she said.
Separate housing is being secured for people who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or who test positive for the illness.
So far, the mayor says that she is not aware of any cases of COVID-19 in the homeless population.
According to Helps, hotel and motel rooms are the best option for physical distancing during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the city is continuing to pursue other indoor housing options, including using city-owned facilities. Helps says that the city is working closely with BC Housing to identify any suitable sites.
A winter shelter will also be staying open longer than usual to provide additional beds for vulnerable people.
The Victoria Native Friendship Centre will remain open until the end of June to provide indoor sheltering for 25 people.
Helps initially announced last month that three city parks – Royal Athletic, Beacon Hill and Topaz – would be used for temporary shelter. Beacon Hill Park, however, was later dropped from the list, which now leaves only Topaz Park as a designated shelter location.
Currently, the city says there are roughly 80 people living at the Topaz Park shelter. As people are moved indoors, Helps says the shelter will be shut down.