As Sooke council continues to grapple with community homelessness, officials admit there is no plan in place when the homeless shelter on Otter Point Road closes.
They say there is no coherent plan or guidance from the province for shelters providing beds to more than a dozen people in a dormitory-style facility.
“We need to look at what other options are there for us,” Mayor Maja Tait said.
This summer, 17 people who are homeless moved into a vacant building that borders John Phillips Memorial Park and Otter Point Road. The temporary facility, operated by the Sooke Region Communities Health Network, provides each client with a bed and two meals. Support services are also available.
The contract for the facility ends in October and will be renewed month to month, as the owner looks at other development options.
“Once the lease ends, then we won’t have a place. That’s an ongoing problem we’re trying to solve,” Tait said.
Amy Bell, a spokesperson for the health network, said her group is continuing to look for alternative space.
“If this is not available,” she said, “we will continue to provide support services to people where they end up.”
The issue came to the forefront in Sooke two years ago with the launch of the Sooke Shelter Society, a non-profit group dedicated to addressing the area’s unhoused. The group called homelessness a crisis, with an estimated 100 people often camping in secluded locations to avoid harassment, violence or eviction.
Earlier this year, the province set up a shelter at SEAPARC Leisure Complex in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The shelter prepared for a maximum occupancy of 45 spaces – 30 indoor and 15 outdoor – but only 17 individuals stayed throughout.
Residents exited the facility early when SEAPARC sought space for recreation programs. Many of them moved to Ed Macgregor Park, forcing the district and other levels of government to find another solution.
The province, B.C. Housing and support agencies have worked slowly towards finding homes for those without.
The M’akola Housing Society and B.C. Housing recently announced they were constructing eight new affordable rental apartments in the Hope Centre. B.C. Housing is also building more housing on Throup and Drennan roads.
But while that’s a promising start, Tait said more needs to be done.
She wants additional affordable housing and other services for the homeless.
“This is a problem in our community. That’s the reality,” Tait said.
The housing of people experiencing homelessness comes with complaints, mainly from neighbours.
Shelters at SEAPARC and on Otter Point Road created controversies with neighbourhoods, and at one point, the mayor went public with her dismay on the vitriolic comments appearing on social media.
Tait admits there have been “a few unfortunate incidents” at the Otter Point Road shelter.
The Sooke Region Communities Health Network has ejected some clients and turned away others looking for housing.
Tait, however, said many neighbourhood concerns about the facility are baseless.
Police and bylaw officers have received few complaints. Only one discarded needle was found in John Phillips Memorial Park in the last two months.
“I appreciate the neighbours’ concern,” Tait said. “However, that leaves us with the question – if not there, where?”
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