Victoria says moving homeless into rec centres up to BC Housing
VICTORIA -- As dozens of people continue to camp along streets and in parks in Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic, any decision to open public facilities to use as sheltering is up to BC Housing, says the City of Victoria.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said Friday that the city has offered all of its facilities, such as recreation centres, to the B.C. government to use in any capacity.
“Absolutely, we’ve said, as the city, any of our facilities are open to BC Housing to shelter people inside,” said Helps.
“So, we’ll leave it to BC housing to determine which of those would be best.”
When outbreaks first began to appear in B.C., Helps says, Island Health’s chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick identified three methods of sheltering for the city’s most vulnerable population.
The ideal sheltering setting was hotel and motel rooms, according to Helps’ summary of Stanwick’s recommendations.
Hotel and motel rooms were identified as the ideal option because they allow for physical distancing and provide each person with a personal washroom to practice proper hygiene and hand-washing.
The second-best option identified was communal sheltering in facilities such as recreation centres.
“Those are called indoor congregate areas and they are not as ideal as motel rooms or hotel rooms as there are shared bathrooms and shared sleeping areas,” said Helps.
The third option proposed by Stanwick was to create outdoor sheltering facilities, like what has been established at Topaz Park.
As of Friday, Victoria’s mayor said she was uncertain if BC Housing was considering using recreation centres as temporary shelters, or what timelines may be in the works.
Currently, BC Housing has secured more than 150 hotel and motel rooms for sheltering while the outdoor Topaz Park facility has reached maximum capacity.
Still, dozens remain unsheltered in Victoria amid the pandemic.
Earlier this week, the city announced that it was calling on the B.C. government to requisition hotel or motel rooms to use as temporary shelters during the health crisis.
The request was a surprise for hotel operators.
“We were caught off guard for sure,” said Bill Lewis, the chairman of the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria. “For the most part, every hotelier I spoke to yesterday had no idea this was coming and wasn't consulted.”
The hotels are still trying to operate and asking them to house the homeless would place more stress on staff, he told The Canadian Press Friday.
“I think there's a huge question mark on how you would house homeless people in buildings that are still housing the general public and employing people who have no training or experience dealing with the homeless community.”
Instead, the association is advocating allowing hotels to negotiate on an individual basis.
Helps acknowledged that there were challenges in securing indoor sheltering at motels, including guarantees of property safety and ensuring that requisitioned buildings were adequately staffed with health-care workers and mental health and addictions supports.
While motel and hotel rooms were identified as the ideal sheltering option for vulnerable Victorians, Helps said the city’s most immediate goal was to bring as many people into indoor sheltering as possible, whether that happens in hotels or recreation centres.
“I don’t care how it happens, just get people inside,” Helps said of her request to the B.C. government at a briefing Thursday.
With files from Nick Wells of The Canadian Press