There is a crisis on the streets of Victoria

There is a crisis on our streets, and the fallout is concentrated on the boulevard in front of Our Place.

People are frightened: They are frightened of dying in alleyways and stairwells, and so they congregate in front of Our Place and next door at The Harbour (Island Health’s Supervised Consumption Site) because they know we are their best chance for survival.

Unfortunately, the public can easily misconstrue this sanctuary as the opposite of what it is, and often blame Our Place for the homeless situation in our community rather than one of the few organizations that is attempting to solve it.

Here’s a bold statement: If there were enough overnight shelter beds to accommodate everyone, there would be no need for anyone to sleep on the sidewalks in front of Our Place or elsewhere.

People sleep outside, on the cold cement and wet grass, because they have nowhere else to go where they feel safe or welcome.

As a community, we have rallied around the model of “Housing First”. We hold it up as the gold standard for doing the right thing. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to build housing and also the reality is that for so many people, they just aren’t capable of keeping that housing without adequate support.

And while we wait for housing to be built, we shouldn’t sit on the sidelines and do nothing while people are dying on our streets.

We need shelter beds right now! We need beds for different populations but most of all we need beds with built-in support services for those who are struggling with addictions and mental illness.

Individuals with addiction issues often won’t go into an overnight shelter. If we want to address the street problem, we also need to address the issues surrounding it.

Once we have shelter beds for everyone, only then can we begin to address the underlying issues that have caused people to become homeless in the first place.

The last shelter to be opened in Victoria was My Place on Yates Street which Our Place opened in 2018. It accommodates 48 people. We also operate an overnight shelter in the gymnasium of First Metropolitan United Church that provides sleeping mats for an additional 60 people. Both of these shelters are full every single night, and you can imagine how heartbreaking it is to turn away the ever-growing waitlist of people desperately wanting a safe place to sleep.

Plus this doesn’t address those individuals who don’t see shelters as a viable option for them due to addiction issues and mental health challenges. For these people we need to offer creative options.

People often ask why the city police can’t move overnight campers off the sidewalks and boulevards. The answer that Chief Del Manak will tell you is there sadly is no place to move them to.

As a community, we need to come together in order to find a solution. At Our Place, we are constantly searching for a suitable building to lease or piece of land that can be used to temporarily house the people who have no home to go to.

It’s a daunting challenge, but we can’t simply turn our backs on people who are so vulnerable and who need our support the most. Let’s all work together to make our community a better place for all.

Don Evans,
CEO, Our Place Society