The creators of a drying station in Beacon Hill Park say they are providing a badly-needed service for people who currently call the park home.
The space, labeled a ‘community care tent’ is full of donated items such as coats, tarps, sleeping bags and snacks. A white board contains a list of needed items and several camping chairs encircle a table covered in thermoses, sugar cubes and creamers.
All the items were donated in the first 48 hours after the tent was set up, and the donations keep arriving.
Fairfield resident David Biltek said he saw a post about the community tent on Facebook.
“People need something and this was easy for me to do,” he said.
“I think that city council is doing the best they can. But quite frankly I think it’s a bit mismanaged and a bit disorganized. … In the economic situation we have, we’re likely going to see more people become homeless.”
The group members that initiated the community tent live in Beacon Hill Park. They say that with reduced capacity inside the city’s shelters and a lack of coordinated relief effort, people in the parks are having to step up to provide relief during the winter months.
Currently, the city’s sheltering bylaw prohibits open flame appliances and requires a permit for electricity.
Grant McKenzie, communications director for Our Place Society, said people are doing what they have to do to survive.
“The bottom line is, there’s not enough shelter space for people,” he said. “Even though we’ve moved hundreds of people indoors, there’s still not enough.”
Looking out from the Pandora Avenue centre, McKenzie can see people huddling under awnings and beneath trees, trying to stay warm during the first November rainfall.
He notes that for people with underlying health conditions, exposure to wet and cold conditions can be particularly harmful, and even dangerous as the threat of COVID-19 looms over the unhoused community.
“I think they’re doing what’s necessary, they’re doing what is needed for survival,” he said. “At the moment there are very few alternatives. People need to stay warm and dry.”
Our Place recently announced it was leasing Cool Aid Society’s facility at 755 Pandora Ave. for use as a temporary night shelter. The shelter opened Nov. 1, providing sleeping space for 20 people each night.
Our Place also operates a 34-space night shelter in the First Metropolitan Church. But reduced capacity to comply with COVID-19 protocols still leaves some people out in the cold.
“Pre-COVID we would have 60 mats in there,” McKenzie said. “And the downtown community centre would have had 40. We have to have everybody two metres apart, that’s really cut down the space available.”
McKenzie said there is a waiting list almost every night, but he also has concerns during the daytime. Usually, a cold and rainy Victoria day would draw hundreds inside the shelter on Pandora Avenue. Now the facility is limited to 40 people.
In April, during a Facebook Live address, Mayor Lisa Helps said a rapid plan with BC Housing was underway to get people housed – at that time, 360 people were living outside.
Since then, more than 100 people have moved to indoor temporary shelters, but an estimate in the Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness report indicates that in July, 1,523 people were without homes.
The City of Victoria continues to work with BC Housing and the Capital Regional District which announced Monday that it was seeking land for the Government of Canada’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI).
The CRD received $13.1 million through RHI to help house people experiencing homelessness in the region.