All 360 people who had set up camp at Topaz Park and along the Pandora Avenue corridor have been offered indoor shelter options as of Wednesday.
In a press briefing this morning, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson announced that authorities expect everyone at the encampments to leave the sites by end of day today.
“People are packing up as we speak,” said Simpson, adding that as of yesterday, May 19, 308 campers had already moved out of the tent cities and into temporary shelters secured by the province and BC Housing.
“I want to thank the dozens of people who have been involved in this partnership, including staff from BC Housing, the City of Victoria, Island Health, the Province, service providers, peer support workers and outreach workers,” said Simpson in a statement.
“All have approached this massive effort to house people with compassion and care, providing people with choices that best suit their individual needs.”
The encampments are expected to clear out today, or latest by tomorrow, after which the sites will be handed over to the City of Victoria.
The City will then work with BC Housing and other groups to remove tents and clear the sites after the last few people have left.
On April 25, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth, issued an order that set May 9 as the deadline to transition people out of the Topaz Park and Pandora Ave encampments in Victoria and the Oppenheimer Park encampment in Vancouver.
This deadline was met in Vancouver, but in Victoria it was extended to today, May 20 after non profit service providers operating shelter sites in Victoria advised BC Housing and the Ministry that they needed more time to “best prepare accommodations and their staff in order to be able to welcome their guests”.
A small group of unsheltered people living at encampments in Victoria have refused shelter accommodations.
“We’re not forcing anyone into housing if they reject shelter accommodation, but we’re telling them that they do need to leave the site,” said Simpson.
Meanwhile, approximately 30 additional people moved into the two encampments after the order to house homeless people at these sites took effect on April 25.
According to Minister Simpson, while these people have not been offered the same indoor shelter options, outreach workers have been registering them on the housing registry.
Similar measures are being taken to provide supports to homeless people in Victoria outside of those two major encampments.
“The work over the past few weeks has seen unprecedented collaboration between the City, the Province, BC Housing, Island Health and the many service providers,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in a statement responding to this morning’s announcement.
“I especially want to thank the frontline staff who have continued to do the work of providing care and support to the most vulnerable people in our community.”
The majority of unsheltered people in Victoria have been offered indoor housing at leased hotels, and at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre which has been converted to provide beds and other facilities for 45 people.
Most recently, the province made a big splash by purchasing the Comfort Inn hotel on Blanshard Street for $18.5 million. This building has 65 rooms to provide temporary shelter to people from the two encampments and in the future, could be turned into an affordable housing space.
BC Housing has re-hired some original staff from the former Comfort Inn hotel to take care of maintenance and other services but for many employees, their livelihoods remain in limbo.