Hey Neighbour pilot project looks to house 30 members of the unhoused community

Local News

Crowdfunding being sought to help fund modification of shipping containers into temporary housing

aryze development proposal photo
Photo sourced from Aryze.

As the City of Victoria moves forward with its plan to end sheltering in parks by March, a local development company has stepped in to lend a hand. Aryze Developments Inc., known for building luxury homes in the Greater Victoria area, approached the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness with an idea to transform 30 modified shipping containers into temporary housing. The project, called Hey Neighbour, has raised half of its target of $500 000 through crowdsourcing and will begin on the first 15 houses at the beginning of February.

Victoria City Council granted the project preliminary approval on January 15. The shipping containers will be installed in the parking lot of Royal Athletic Park. Currently, members of the unhoused community are sleeping in tents in the parking lot after Central Park flooded in December. 

Luke Mari, the Development Lead of Aryze Developments said he had the idea for the project after seeing the lack of available housing options for members of the unhoused community. The flooding at Central Park in late December that forced the nearly 50 unhoused people sheltering there to move only furthered the impetus for a speedy solution. Although Aryze is involved in affordable and below-market housing they are not a management company and have little experience dealing with the needs of the unhoused community. That is where the partnership with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness came in.

“We’re not specialists in supportive housing, which is a complex housing operation,” Mari told the Martlet. “So we approached the coalition and said ‘hey, you know obviously people living in parks over the winter is not meeting basic human rights to safe housing, you guys want to work together on a rapid solution?’ and they were obviously very keen.” 

Mari got the idea of using shipping containers from seeing how well they worked as site construction offices. He says that it is easy to turn them into tiny homes by installing windows and necessary furniture. 

Shipping containers have already been set up as tiny homes in places like Courtenay, B.C., where We Can Shelter Project has set up four shipping containers for members of the unhoused community at a local RV park. Mobile outreach teams are able to visit the site daily which allows residents easy access to the services they need. 

Mari says that the goal is to provide people with housing while also maintaining the networks and services people rely on. 

“We don’t want to displace people too far from these kinds of social and emotional networks that they formed in parks,” said Mari. “So we’re trying to look at what’s the best space to reduce the distance that people are getting moved from, but also [that] still maintains a connection to [the] service delivery that is needed in that population.”

In regards to the containers themselves, Mari says that the current plan is to supply each container with a desk, hot plate, and mini-fridge. There will be shared washroom and shower facilities as well as a support container for service providers. 

Some local outreach workers say that while they believe the idea for the project is a step in the right direction, they are waiting for construction to start before calling the project a success. 

Local outreach worker Thea Hinks says that the city and the coalition have been promoting different housing schemes for months, often without success. She says that members of the unhoused community want housing but have been let down time and time again.

“People are like ‘yeah we’ll believe it when we see it,’” Hinks told the Martlet.

Hinks says that this is especially the case with the unhoused at Beacon Hill Park who have been left out of previous housing plans.

The failure to get housing projects off the ground has led to a long, hard winter for those sheltering in parks. Members of the unhoused community say that over the last several months they have faced theft, abuse, flooding, and the general cold and wetness of winter. An arson attack in November at Beacon Hill Park led to burns for one member of the unhoused community as well as the destruction of a recently established community care tent. Most recently, flooding at Central Park led to the evacuation of dozens of the unhoused to the parking lot of Royal Athletic Park.

With most shelters in the Greater Victoria area closed due to COVID-19, there are very few safe and dry places accessible to members of the unhoused community. The few shelters that are open, such as the First Metropolitan United Church, the Victoria Cool Aid Society, and the My Place Transitional Home shelter, are full.

There is some hope on the horizon, however, as BC Housing is once again in talks with the GSL Group, the management company that owns the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, about using the arena as an emergency shelter. The arena was used during the summer to house 45 people from May through September. 

In the end, Mari hopes that Aryze’s pilot project can help until a different solution is reached.

“We know this isn’t a permanent solution,” said Mari. “This is a tool in a toolkit of many housing options … the current situation of people living in flooded parks in the winter, for the wealth of our country, we can do better.”