When the doors of the former Boys and Girls Club reopen as a temporary shelter again this winter, the reception could be a little warmer.
Last week, Victoria city council unanimously granted the application to lease the property at 1240 Yates St. to Our Place. The non-profit will operate My Place Transitional Home on behalf of BC Housing as a 24/7 seasonal shelter for up to 40 people until April 30, with the goal of housing previously homeless people in a stable environment.
According to the city, groups consulted about the proposed use of the building did not express opposition at an information meeting held Nov. 8 at Central Middle School, located across the street.
Coun. Charlayne Thornton Joe, who is council’s liaison to that neighbourhood, noted the community’s receptivity to the project seems noticeably different this year. She said that while the security and staffing are the same, the way Our Place operates will be different.
“We have addressed some of the concerns we heard in the past, and the model has changed,” she said.
Previously, the residents came from tent city and from sleeping on the streets, but this year, the people being housed have already been living at First Metropolitan Church. Those people will be vetted and assessed before being moved over to the transitional shelter on Yates Street, Thornton Joe said.
“What I’m seeing is the model is actually improved,” she explained. “Obviously there have been some individuals who still have expressed concerns…but in general we heard even from the most immediate neighbours…they feel their concerns are heard immediately and addressed each time there are problems.”
Residents of the re-opened shelter will sleep in cubicles and have a place to store their belongings during the day, and no tents will be used. There will also be a housing worker onsite to help residents find more permanent shelter when it becomes available.
Coun. Ben Isitt said he supported the leasing agreement although he didn’t think it was the best use of the heritage property. Rather than focusing on temporary winter shelters, he said he would like to see more long-term, permanent social housing.
“I think if we get to the point where we have a sufficient supply of non-market, social housing in the community, we won’t need these types of facilities,” he said.
When there is more of this type of housing available, he said, sheltering in the parks will not be needed, and the number of emergency shelters will be significantly reduced.
“Really the pressing need, for this community and province, is a massive expansion of de-commodified, state-owned, and state-supported housing,” he said.
Isitt’s comments drew criticism from Coun. Geoff Young, who suggested his ideas about de-commodified housing were similar to the “Bolshevik revolution.” And while Young had reservations about the use of this building, he supported the lease.
“This is not a very good way to organize temporary housing. We’re talking about allocating space on a gym floor, but the fact is, it worked moderately well last time,” he said. “[But] I feel the reason it was successful was precisely because of the limits on the time allowable.”
Coun. Young said he expects similar temporary shelter applications to come before council in the coming weeks.