B.C. begins moving homeless camp residents into hotels, community centres
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson announced plans to move the residents of large homeless encampments in Victoria and Vancouver to hotels and community centres.
“While the fear of COVID-19 sweeps through our communities, we must also remember there are those who are facing this pandemic without shelter and without the support which many of us take for granted,” Farnworth said Saturday. “These are people with no place to isolate, no rest or relief from this growing global threat.”
Farnworth’s emergency order set a May 9 deadline to remove all residents of the three large encampments — Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver and Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue in Victoria — due to the “risk to the health, safety and welfare” of the people living there. The order also implemented an immediate ban on new residents entering the encampments.
Two people at the Topaz Park encampment — which was established soon after the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in B.C. — have died this month and a dead newborn was discovered in a port-a-potty near Oppenheimer Park on Thursday, but officials said no cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at any of the encampments.
‘Excellent room rates’ with support services
BC Housing had secured 2,749 spaces in community centres, hotels and motels across the province. In Vancouver, eight hotels and two emergency response centres will be able to accommodate 686 people, including the 300 residents of Oppenheimer Park.
In Victoria, 324 spaces had been organized at five hotels as of Saturday (ministry officials said 360 people were living in Topaz Park or on Pandora). Eighty people were already moved in, and efforts to acquire more spaces are underway.
Because hotels in the province are “largely vacant” amid the pandemic, the government is getting “excellent” rates for the rooms it is leasing, according to officials.
The province expects to lease the accommodation sites for three to six months and has enlisted seven non-profit societies to work with camp residents and provide services at each site. Daily meals and cleaning services will also be on offer, and the sites will be monitored 24/7.
Provincial officials said the non-profit societies spent weeks conducting outreach and evaluations with camp residents before the move-in process began last week.
Officials did not give a cost estimate for the rooms or the “rigorous cleaning” that will be undertaken once residents leave.
Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson said some of the funding will come from $40 million that was allocated to BC Housing in March.
The cost of organizing the decampments will come from the province’s $5-billion COVID-19 action plan.
The hotel and community centre sites are an interim solution.
The province is working on accelerating the development of modular housing to accommodate people over the longer term. About 5,000 modular and supportive housing units are already in development and expected to be complete within about 12 months, according to the housing ministry.
Simpson said the province is also considering buying some of the motels for permanent housing.