The B.C. government has confirmed plans to house up to 88 campers on the Victoria courthouse lawn in temporary “transitional housing and shelter” at a vacant downtown care home and a mostly empty provincial youth custody centre in View Royal.
Housing Minister Rich Coleman announced Friday the province has bought the Mount Edwards Court Care Home at 1002 Vancouver St. for $3.65 million, and will open 38 units to occupants of the tent camp “for approximately 12 months” with units rented for $375 a month.
Another 50 “shelter units” are to be opened at the Victoria Youth Custody Centre, with both to be open by Feb. 23. Occupants there will be provided with three meals a day and have the option of camping in the courtyard, which has space for about 20 tents, for up to six months.
The Mount Edwards proposal has sparked strong neighbourhood opposition, with residents refused information or input even as construction crews began renovating the ground floor. The building is across Rockland Avenue from the Christ Church Cathedral elementary and middle school, which like the surrounding area has been littered with needles, feces and trash since the tent camp sprang up next to the courthouse late last year.
Campers are to be offered on-site health care at Mount Edwards shelter, operated by the Victoria Cool Aid Society, which runs Victoria drop-in and housing services.
Campers reacted angrily to letters handed out by provincial officials Friday morning, saying they weren’t consulted and they plan to stay put. Coleman said people camping illegally on public property don’t have a right to make further demands.
“If people are camping and saying they’re homeless, not a lot of consultation needs to take place,” he said.
Neighbours have spoken out about the proposed long-term plan for Mount Edwards, to house up to 101 people in “low barrier” housing that tolerates alcohol and drug use. Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has said a permanent facility would require rezoning to go ahead.
Coleman denied that a permanent Mount Edwards facility is a done deal, and promised that consultation and a rezoning would be done before any long-term use of the building is determined. The shelter and medical use “probably fits within the existing zoning,” he said.
Asked if drug and alcohol use will be condoned at the Mount Edwards site, Coleman said once people are residents of the units, they will not be subject to interference into what they do in their own homes.