VICTORIA -- The City of Victoria, in partnership with Island Health, BC Housing and other local organizations has secured 40 more motel rooms for homeless people amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps made the announcement Monday after saying that 35 unsheltered people were provided with motel rooms as of March 30.

Meanwhile, city and provincial staff continue to work on constructing temporary outdoor homeless shelters at Royal Athletic Park and Topaz Park.

“People with very high needs, complex mental health and addiction challenges, can not live independently in motel rooms, so those people will be moved initially into Royal Athletic Park and then into other indoor opportunities when available,” said Helps.

While construction of the outdoor shelters is underway, Helps said it will take some time to open the facilities.

“Moving people inside is not happening quickly,” she said. “Setting up Royal Athletic Park is a massive endeavor.”

The mayor added that the city and province were working as fast as they could to open the facilities, and the municipality has made helping those camped along Pandora Street a “top priority.”

Helps says that the city has also “urgently and passionately” called on the provincial government to assist small businesses in paying for their commercial rent, as April 1 quickly approaches.

The mayor also supported Victoria Police Chief Del Manak’s call for physical distancing after police officers were called to nine parties over the weekend.

Helps said that responding to gatherings places unnecessary health risks on police officers, who should be focusing on more serious matters.

Last week, the province empowered bylaw officers with the ability to enforce provincial health orders. Helps says that the city is looking into hiring more bylaw officers, but is hoping that the community will comply with physical distancing and self-isolation guidelines.

“Don’t give us reason to hire more bylaw officers,” she said.

“It’s costly, not only to public health as we’ve been discussing, but it’s very costly from a bottom-line point of view. Just follow the rules.”