British Columbia

B.C. Housing to reopen Victoria arena as emergency homeless shelter, but not until March

The province of B.C. has signed a lease for the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre arena in Victoria to be used as temporary housing for the city’s homeless population, but the shelter won’t be open until the worst of winter weather has ended in March.

Agency says lease starts on Feb. 1, but facility won't start operating until a month later

The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria was first set up as an emergency response centre last summer, using pop-up pods for homeless people. (Twitter/David Eby)

The province has signed a lease for the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre arena in Victoria to be used as temporary housing for the city's homeless population, but the shelter won't be open until the worst of winter weather has ended in March.

The arena will be able to house up to 45 people, with priority going to those who are currently living in tent encampments throughout the city.

Attorney General David Eby says the province and the City of Victoria are still working on moving people into housing that is long term and sustainable. Their goal is to have enough indoor spaces for people living in encampments in Victoria by the end of March.

"This is transitional housing to respond to this urgent situation," said Eby in a written news release. 

The Ministry of the Attorney General hasn't yet answered why it will take over a month before people can take shelter in the arena.

B.C. Housing has signed a lease with GSL Group, the arena's operator, from Feb. 1 to May 30 of this year, with options to extend beyond May 30.

Tents in Victoria's Central Park sit on swamp-like ground after extreme weather on Dec. 21, 2020. (North Park Neighbourhood Association/Twitter)

The Save-On-Foods arena was previously set up to provide temporary shelter to people camping on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park during the peak of the pandemic last summer. It was closed in September 2020 after the people living there were moved to more permanent and supportive housing.

In December, residents living near an encampment in Central Park called on B.C. Housing to reopen the facility as an indoor shelter.

Advocate worries about mixed messages

Advocates like Rev. Al Tysick with the Dandelion Society worry that the government is sending mixed messages about who is being offered housing and who is getting emergency shelter.

"There's one we're told that we're going to have everyone housed [...] Now we're hearing 45 people sheltered," Tysick told On The Island host Gregor Craigie.

He says there are major differences between the two options.

"Housing you have your own bathroom, you have your own TV or you have some space of your own in a motel room, for example," he explained.

"Shelter, you're with others, you're breathing their air, you're sharing a bathroom, your stuff is being stolen."

The province says it's still working on logistics for the site, but its plan is to have a setup similar to last year, which included access to meals, washroom facilities, health care and addictions treatment.

B.C. Housing will give priority to applications from Indigenous persons, people experiencing long-term homelessness, people over the age of 55 and those who have pre-existing health conditions.

Listen to Rev. Al Tysick with the Dandelion Society talk about homeless encampments in Victoria:

With files from CBC's On The Island


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