Former Victoria youth detention centre opens as homeless shelter

The locks are gone and the gate is always open at the former Victoria Youth Custody Centre as the space at 94 Talcott Rd. in View Royal has been transformed as a shelter with 50 units.

'It no longer feels like a jail. It feels like a home to them,' says operator

The gate is now always open at a former youth detention centre retrofitted into a homeless shelter. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

The locks are gone and the gate is always open at the former Victoria Youth Custody Centre as the space at 94 Talcott Rd. in View Royal has been transformed as a homeless shelter with 50 units.

"I have a stable place to live for the first time in my entire life," said Kyle Wright who is now staying at the former youth detention centre. "I'm not homeless anymore."

Kyle Wright is one of about 25 people staying at the facility after struggling with addictions which forced him onto the street. He now helps prepare meals at the shelter. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Wright says he's now eating and sleeping again after being able to deal with addictions that forced him onto the streets, but he told CBC News that he was uneasy at first coming to live at what once was a jail.

It's a stigma that Our Place Society, the organization which operates the shelter, has made efforts to dispel as volunteers helped retrofit the space to accommodate people moving from Victoria's controversial tent city.

The rooms are now always unlocked at the detention centre turned homeless shelter, but operators say it's been a challenge for some to stay at a former jail because of past experiences. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"They are getting more comfortable with it," said Don Evans with Our Place. "It no longer feels like a jail. It feels like a home to them."

The facility offers outside camping space as well as beds in the former holding cells. The site also has a gym, a woodworking room, and an art room. Operators are running a shuttle into the city each day as well.  

So far there are about 25 people staying in the space that has 50 shelter units.

Volunteers have helped construct an outdoor ring with seating. There are plans to place an propane camp fire in the middle. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Evans expects interest in the shelter will grow if the province is granted a court injunction to break up the tent city.

The province plans to keep the shelter at the former youth custody centre open for six months.

In 2014, the provincial government decided to shutter the custody centre, transferring youth in need of its services to a facility in Burnaby instead as a cost saving measure.

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