British Columbia

Homeless move to Sooke from Victoria for safety, survey hears

Point in Time survey counts 38 people without a home in semi-rural Vancouver Island community of 13,000.

Point in Time survey counts 38 people without a home in semi-rural Vancouver Island community of 13,000

Paul Drake says some people chose not to complete the Point in Time survey because they don't want others to know they are homeless. (CHEK News)

An expanded survey of homelessness in Greater Victoria has found at least 38 people without a home in the semi-rural community of Sooke.

For the first time, the 2018 Greater Victoria Point in Time count, conducted March 15, surveyed Sooke residents at the local crisis centre, food bank and legion.

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said that while many of the homeless are long-term Sooke residents, she has heard that some came to the community of 13,000 because it seemed safer than the streets of Victoria.

"I have heard that," Tait said. "I've also heard from a few individuals directly that were from Sooke and went into the core to access services and then felt unsafe and they returned to our community."

While it might seem safer, Sooke currently lacks services found in the city.

The only outreach centre, the Crisis and Referral Centre, operates three hours a day from Monday to Friday, although several churches provide breakfasts and lunches for people in need.

The only centre for homeless people in Sooke is the crisis and referral centre which is open for three hours on weekdays. (Google Maps)

There is currently no overnight shelter space.

Tait was surprised to discover the emergency extreme weather shelter, located in a church outside the town centre, did not open at all this past winter.

"That's a concern to me," she said.

Tenting on unused land

Tait said she hopes the study will help identify the needs for homeless shelter space and other local services.

The mayor said she's been told people are surviving by making their own shelter in tents on large tracts of land around the community, by couch-surfing with friends or staying in derelict houses.

Homeless Sooke resident Paul Drake said the numbers in the Point in Time don't reflect everyone because some people chose not to participate in the survey. 

"They didn't want people to know they're homeless," Drake said. 

An earlier examination of Sooke's youth homelessness resulted in development of the Sooke Hope Centre by the non-profit M'akola Housing Societies and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In 2014, it opened 25 affordable bachelor units for young adults people aged 19 to 31.

Additional affordable housing proposals before council include another 42-unit affordable rental project.

With files from CHEK News and CBC Radio's On the Island with Gregor Craigie.