The SEAPARC arena has been used since the end of April as a temporary isolation space for Sooke’s homeless population. The shelter is shutting down early due to youth camps being held at the facility starting on June 29. (Dawn Gibson/Sooke News Mirror)

Sooke temporary homeless shelter packs up early

Occupants to leave facility by June 22

Organizers of the temporary homeless isolation space at SEAPARC Leisure Complex are working on an exit strategy for June 22.

The shelter must pack up camp earlier than anticipated due to SEAPARC hosting youth camps starting June 29.

Originally, the temporary homeless shelter was expected to stay open until June 30.

“We knew that this was coming, so it wasn’t much of a surprise,” said Jen Wilde, homelessness programs coordinator, for the Sooke Region Communities Health Network and director of operations for the COVID-19 response isolation shelter in Sooke.

She noted things have gone well at the camp, and is expecting to provide more information soon on progress made by individuals using the camp.

“We are still looking for a managed exit strategy, and then figuring out what is next,” said Wilde, noting some housing options are expected to come available in March 2021, so she hopes to figure out a plan on how to provide support for Sooke’s homeless population until then.

The temporary shelter is operated by the Sooke Region Communities Health Network, in collaboration with B.C. Housing, regional health authorities and municipal governments, who designed the project as part of a community response plan for the pandemic.

The arena has provided housing and the ability to self-isolate for Sooke’s homeless population and residents at risk of homelessness.

The shelter was prepared for a maximum occupancy of 45 spaces – 30 indoor and 15 outdoor – but only 17 individuals have stayed throughout, said Al Beddows, chairman of SEAPARC board.

Beddows said he was concerned when the project was first announced, but was pleased with how everything turned out.

“It changed my view, personally. Jen Wilde and the homeless coalition did a wonderful job in a difficult situation,” said Beddows. “It was great to see.”

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Beddows said there hasn’t been any major issues around the property, and that the biggest challenge was due to public misconception, about what was actually happening at the recreation centre.

“I got a lot of nasty e-mails,” chuckled Beddows, saying many people were concerned about homeless populations from Victoria coming to Sooke, but this was not the reality.

He added that some people were trying to sneak in and take photos inside the arena, and others have driven by throwing beer bottles at the shelter.

“Some people called to report that the occupants were outside,” said Beddows. “It’s not a prison. The residents are free to come and go as they wish. This was a space for Sooke’s homeless population to have the option to self isolate, not be on lockdown.”

In the contract for the temporary shelter, SEAPARC negotiated with B.C. housing to receive $400 per day for usage of the facility, as well as a $9,000 commission for set up and tear down.

Beddows said he isn’t sure what the tear down will look like, but doesn’t expect it to be a big process, and that the place will be completely sanitized and ready to go for kids camps on June 29.

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