B.C. to open 70 shelter spaces at Vic West property

Approximately 70 indoor sheltering spaces will open for people experiencing homelessness in Victoria at a Vic West property next month, the B.C. government announced Wednesday.

The building, located at 225 Russell St., is one of five properties that were recently purchased by BC Housing to act as shelters or supportive housing.

The City of Victoria and the B.C. government have committed to housing all unsheltered people camping in city parks by the end of April. The province estimates that there are more than 200 people currently sheltering in tents across the municipality.

"In order to hit our target of bringing everyone in tents in parks in Victoria inside by the end of April, this building is a necessary part of the plan," said David Eby, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing in a statement Wednesday.

"While this purchase helps us reach our initial goal of dignified shelter by the end of next month, the site will also support our work to deliver stable, safe, long-term homes for people living in parks in Victoria when it is ultimately redeveloped," he said.

The province says the Russell Street property will be a temporary shelter. It is expected to open before the end of April and will remain in use for 18 to 24 months.

After that, BC Housing plans to present a redevelopment proposal for the property to turn it into a supportive housing facility, with engagement from the community.

The announcement sparked heated responses from many residents who live in the neighbourhood.

More than 50 people gathered at the property to protest the province's plans to use the building as a shelter for the homeless on Wednesday.

Residents say that there should have been more communication with the community before the decision was made.

"Up until yesterday nobody really knew anything about this project, yet there's been a permit approved," said Tony Young, a Russell Street resident.

"Now we're faced with a homeless shelter that is going to be occupied with 70 beds for upwards of 24 months," he added. "We live here, we're taxpayers and we want a safe community."

The province says it plans to form a community advisory committee and will provide information on the property to the neighbourhood periodically.

The shelter will be operated by the Victoria-based Our Place Society.

Since January 2021, the province and the city have moved 116 people into shelter spaces, according to the B.C. government.

"I want to thank the Province and the residents of Vic West for welcoming some of the region’s most vulnerable residents on a temporary basis as they begin their journey to housing," said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.