The voices of residents concerned and fearful over the prospect of more months neighbouring the Choices Transitional Home outnumbered those in support of View Royal granting another extension of the temporary use permit for the facility.
Despite the opposition to the proposal during a public hearing Tuesday, View Royal council voted 4-1 to approve the request from BC Housing to have one last stretch of time using the former youth correctional facility as a temporary home for 50 otherwise homeless individuals, in the absence of more supported or subsidized units in which to house them.
While the extension runs to March 31, 2018, Choices, operated for B.C. Housing at 94 Talcott Rd. by the Our Place Society, must be vacated by Dec. 31, 2017.
Some neighbouring residents described experiences of not feeling safe walking on the nearby Galloping Goose since Choices opened, or of having negative encounters with people staying at the facility. Many worried that extending the permit for another year would compound the problems they’ve seen develop.
“I understand the frustration of residents and how this facility has changed their neighbourhood a great deal, but we’re responding to a regional crisis,” Mayor David Screech said before the final vote. “I would never vote to have that facility kept empty when there’s people who need to be housed.”
Past history leads to new set of rules
Ongoing concerns around safety and security in the neighbourhood, noise and using police resources to keep the peace inside the compound prompted Town staff to write in stricter conditions for the operation of Choices for this final extension. They included clauses around unacceptable levels of police calls, and overall risk to the public, Town staff, police and Choices staff or residents – each subject to council discretion.
As well, there are stipulations for security staff shift times, monthly community meetings and monthly reports to council detailing resident intake and discharge, patrol status and staff training.
Financially, a $25,000 performance bond will be put up by BC Housing by April 10 to ensure the site is decommissioned by March 31, 2018 and a further $25,000 security will cover the cost of overtime calls taken by RCMP and View Royal protective services staff. Sept. 15 is listed as the cutoff for accepting new residents into the facility.
Coun. John Rogers amended the original motion to read that failure to meet any of the conditions would be grounds for Town staff to bring the permit back to council for possible revocation.
Can the residents all be housed by Dec. 31?
Coun. Heidi Rast, the only member of council to vote against the motion to approve the permit with its amended conditions, worried that the Sept. 15 cutoff date would not give Choices enough time to house the remaining residents given its current turnover rate.
Nonetheless, assurances were given that all efforts would be made by B.C. Housing, Our Place and the Town to ensure the facility is empty by Dec. 31.
“I see a clear exit strategy,” Screech said. “BC Housing has committed to us that there will not be an extension request after this date.”
Don Evans, executive director of Our Place Society, which hopes to create a therapeutic recovery community on site after Choices winds up, is confident the deadline can be achieved.
“We’ll make sure that it’s met,” he said. “The Town has made it pretty clear that they’re not going to extend it, and we understand that and we’re going to live with that. So we’ll work hard with B.C. Housing and all the housing providers to make sure that everyone gets housed. We certainly don’t want to see anyone displaced. And at the end of the day, if there’s a few people left there, we’ve got other facilities that we can move them into.”
Supporters spoke up too
Several neighbours spoke in support of the facility and its residents, noting that living in poverty is tough for anyone, especially those who may have mental health or addictions issues.
Choices resident John Goddard gave a particularly moving speech toward the end of the public hearing. A career carpenter who suffered an injury for which he continues to wait for surgery, he said he lived on his savings for a year and a half, because he was ineligible for benefits.
“I’m not an addict, I’m not a vagrant,” he said, referring to a comment from a neighbour. “I’m just like you. Living in a jail cell, you have no clue how tough it is. Try getting up every morning and not being able to see yourself in the mirror, because there are no mirrors there.”
New housing units coming this year
Malcolm McNaughton regional director of development for BC Housing, made reference to a couple of building renovations that are slated for completion this fall that will add more units to the mix and get more people off the street.
He said an announcement about a project is coming this week, and Evans noted that Mount Edward Court in Victoria is expected to have more units opened by the time the year-end deadline rolls around.