A transitional housing facility in View Royal has been given the green light to continue operating until the end of March 2017.
But the town’s council will not consider another extension until they receive an application for rezoning and give the public an opportunity to weigh in on the future of the site.
Choices, housed in the former youth custody centre at 94 Talcott Rd., opened in February and was originally slated to operate until the end of August. That changed when View Royal council unanimously approved a request for a seven-month extension from B.C. Housing.
View Royal Mayor David Screech said, “we won’t consider another (extension) until they put in a proper rezoning application.” He noted the property is purpose-zoned, which is unusual as most properties are not typically zoned for one use only.
“Nobody ever foresaw that it would ever be anything other than a youth detention centre,” he said. He noted that one pod within the facility is still used a few nights a month to detain youth in custody.
“It’s a complicated property,” he added. “They need to put together a plan … I think they’re working on doing that.”
View Royal council members had two other provisions for the March extension. One was that security be provided daily for the immediate neighbourhood and along the Galloping Goose Trail from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. The other was that the township continue to receive a grant, which Screech said was roughly $150,000, in lieu of taxes from the province for the property.
“It’s really important for us that that be maintained,” he noted.
Screech commended Our Place Society, which operates the View Royal shelter, among others. He said the organization really stepped up and listened to community members, after a group of residents that live in close proximity voiced their concerns at a meeting last month.
“That’s where the idea for private security came from,” Screech noted. “Clearly that brings some peace of mind … We thought that was a great gesture on their part.”
Grant McKenzie, Our Place Society director of communications, said “we really try to listen to the neighbours and respond quickly.” He noted that happens not just at the View Royal site, but all the facilities the society operates.
“Homelessness has always been more visible in Victoria,” he said, noting that while there have been homeless camps in View Royal, it hasn’t always been evident. When Choices opened, “it shone a big spotlight on it.” Sometimes that can take people a while to get used to, he said.
To help with that adjustment, Our Place hosts community meetings for neighbours and other interested parties on the third Tuesday of the month. The next meeting will be on July 19 at 2 p.m. at the View Royal Fire Hall, 333 Island Hwy.
After security issues were addressed at last month’s meeting, McKenzie said, “I think people are coming on board and are glad they are heard.” Patrols started this week, with security “making sure people aren’t wandering around that shouldn’t be there.” He pointed out, however, that Choices is not a prison and residents are allowed to come and go, but are not allowed to have visitors. The security, he added, is also there to make sure no one is loitering in the area.
The View Royal facility is currently home to roughly 65 people. “That’s getting close to the maximum capacity,” McKenzie said. “I don’t think we could have more than 70.”
With 26 residents opting for indoor accommodations, the rest are housed outside in tents.
A B.C. Supreme Court judge recently ordered that the tent city on the courthouse lawn in Victoria be shut down, with all structures cleared and residents moved out no later than Aug. 8.
With the opening of more permanent accommodations in Victoria for homeless residents expected in time for that deadline, the hope is that shelter clients looking for indoor housing will move to the new facilities. That will open spaces at Choices “for those that want more of an outdoor experience,” he said. “There are some people that definitely want to stay outdoors.”
Sometimes, McKenzie said, people are reluctant to move inside, but after spending some time at the site they realize they would be comfortable moving indoors, either at Choices or at another facility.
“The more housing options we have, the more people can get into the right kind of housing,” he added.