Greater Victoria will see 100 complex-care housing spaces by 2023 as part of a new provincial housing approach that links public health to eviction-free housing for vulnerable people.
The spaces allocated across the region are 100 of the 500 planned around the province, a $164-million commitment contained in B.C.’s 2022 budget. The spaces will be created in new and existing affordable housing locations.
Participating tenants will not face the risk of eviction and will have access to Island Health nurses, peer workers, social workers and other healthcare professionals. Additionally, assigned physical or mental health specialists will remain attached to residents if they switch sites.
“For too long, people suffering complex and overlapping mental health and substance use challenges have been left behind,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, in a teleconference Tuesday (March 22). The proposed complex-care solution has been “long in the making,” she added.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps called the program “unprecedented,” having been developed following consultations between the province, the BC Urban Mayors Caucus and individuals with lived experience of drug use and homelessness. “These spaces are desperately needed to take care of those who have lived on our street year over year,” she said.
In-house health support aims to address systemic racism found in B.C.’s healthcare system, which has kept marginalized groups from getting help, Malcolmson said. Island Health’s 2020 In Plain Sight: Systemic Racism in B.C. Healthcare report found 84 per cent of Indigenous survey respondents experienced some form of discrimination while receiving health care, while Ministry of Health research found over a third (35 per cent) of B.C. healthcare workers witnessed discrimination inflicted upon Indigenous patients while on shift.
Likewise, peer support and its voluntary nature are vital aspects of the complex-care program, Malcolmson said.
To operate the program, Island Health board of directors chair Leah Hollins said the health authority is actively seeking “qualified, empathetic and dedicated people” to deliver social work and nursing services. She was unable to say how many additional healthcare workers are required for the program or how they’ll be hired.
The program should also impact businesses in downtown Victoria and those across the province Helps said.
“Shop owners come to work and see these folks living in their doorways … (and) we know how much businesses have struggled through the pandemic. These 100 spaces are going to take care of everyone, from the most vulnerable to our small businesses,” she said.
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