An innovative temporary shelter operated by PHS Community Services Society at a Victoria hockey arena offers people experiencing homelessness the supports to achieve permanent housing.

The 24/7 shelter at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre arena provides 47 sleeping pods, with residents receiving nutritious meals, onsite clinic, harm reduction facilities and storage lockers.

Most important is the intention to work towards permanent housing, with supports in place to make the shelter an interim step to an appropriate home as the number of homeless continues to rise in Victoria.

The facility opened March 1, with small groups of residents arriving in stages during the first week.

Prioritizing the vulnerable

Individuals particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 – including people over the age of 55 and those with pre-existing health conditions – have been prioritized for the shelter spaces. All new arrivals were screened for COVID-19.

The project will operate until the end of May, and possibly longer if the lease is extended by BC Housing and site owners GSL Group.

The arena shelter is a reprise of one managed by PHS at the same site from May to the end of September 2020, during which around 50 formerly homeless people obtained housing.

“We are incredibly proud to renew last year’s partnership with BC Housing and GSL Group,” said PHS Director of Victoria Operations Avery Taylor. “The arena created a much-needed space for many community partners to come together to provide not only temporary shelter and services, but a pathway into more permanent housing for people.”

Dignity and stability

The immediate concern is moving in residents in a dignified way, and then enabling people to get settled and find stability.

In time, individuals will be assessed to determine what supports will lead to positive housing outcomes – some may want to be independent within social housing, others may benefit from supportive housing. (Both social and supportive housing is affordable; the latter has medical, mental health and personal supports.)

“We’re really just trying to give everybody everything that they could possibly need to be prepared to move into housing,” said Avery. “That was one of our biggest successes from last year – people came in and we got to understand them, they got to know us and it really helped them find permanent housing.”

This time around, he said, there is a far higher set of expectations around the project, and is pleased to see the involvement of community partners.

Health & housing partnerships

BC Housing is funding the arena and Island Health the medical supports. Cool Aid Mobile Inner-City Outreach (CAMICO) is providing embedded clinical services, SOLID Outreach Society operating an on-site overdose prevention facility and PHS Mental Health Workers will be available to residents. 

Grace Lore, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill said the shelter benefits the entire neighbourhood.

“People in our community need safe and indoor shelter,” she said. “The current situation isn’t working for neighbours and it isn’t working for those sheltering in the parks.

“This announcement will help take some of the pressure off and is an important step for addressing the short-term need. We know there is much more to do, and our government is committed to working with all partners to address long-term housing needs.”