“It’s incredible to watch, it really is, when you see people able to move out of survival mode for the first time, and get back into living mode,” says Grant McKenzie, director of communications at Our Place.
A 52-unit modular housing project in Saanich is set to open by the end of this month, providing permanent homes to people currently living in hotel rooms.
The building in the 2900 block of Albina Street, operated by Our Place Society, will welcome residents from the former Howard Johnson hotel on Gorge Road East, along with the support staff who have been working in the latter site. Residents have had a couple of years to find some stability in their temporary rooms, and the move will give them more security knowing they have a permanent home, said Grant McKenzie, director of communications at Our Place.
“It’s incredible to watch, it really is, when you see people able to move out of survival mode for the first time, and get back into living mode,” he said.
Individual units feature a single bed, private bathroom and shower and a kitchen area with a fridge, hot plate, microwave and sink. The five-storey building also has laundry facilities, a commercial kitchen, a communal area, private rooms for counselling and medical appointments, and a garden for residents to look after. Residents will be provided two meals a day.
“Having a communal space, learning how to cook and dine and live together — even basic skills that we would think everybody knows, like doing your laundry — it’s all part of this building,” said Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming after a tour of the building Friday morning. “It’s been very thoughtfully laid out.”
Many neighbours had been frustrated with the situation in the homes that had been in the location previously, Fleming said. They were run down and often prompted police calls about drug dealing.
“I think neighbours recognize this was a real improvement,” he said.
Still, Vera Wynn-Williams, president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, expressed disappointment with a lack of communication around the project. She said her group has not been told who would be moving into the new building or when.
The federal government provided $6.9 million in funding and the province put up $11.5 million. The province will pay about $1.25 million in annual operating costs.
The new building represents “one step in a large staircase that has to be built,” to address homelessness in the region, McKenzie said.
Residents of Tiny Town, a small community of people living in shipping containers near Royal Athletic Park, will be next, he said.
“We also know there are still people on the streets, people who have failed out of housing, so we need to find new ways of reaching them to get them stable enough to move into housing options,” McKenzie said.
B.C. Housing does not intend to renew its lease on the former Howard Johnson after it expires March 31.
The hotel was one of several temporary supportive housing facilities in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood, where neighbours voiced concerns with what they felt was a disproportionate number of such sites in their area.
Suzanne Cole, executive director of the Burnside Gorge Community Association, said residents of the neighbourhood will be happy to see B.C. Housing follow through on its commitment to permanently house the residents of the Howard Johnson in another location.
“I think everybody is looking forward to having people move into something that is purpose-built,” she said.
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