‘Tiny town’ opens with new beginnings and old concerns
On May 14, the temporary housing facility known as ‘Tiny Town’ opened at Royal Athletic Park. The modified shipping containers will house 30 people for up to 18 months while they await permanent housing.
Allan Saunders, chair of the Our Place Society board that will be managing the site, spoke to the importance of supportive housing and his hope that Tiny Town can serve as a gateway to permanent housing.
“Today is a great day,” said Saunders. “Although this village is talking about homes that are tiny, the significance of it is huge.”
The Tiny Town is a collaboration between the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, Aryze Developments, and various outreach groups. Residents will have access to 24/7 mental health, addiction, and employment services as well as daily meals and washroom facilities. There is also a central community gathering area for activities and community events.
Residents arrived between May 14 and May 16. Each unit will house a single occupant and contains a bed, dresser, closet, chair, and mini fridge. Those moving into the site were able to bring two large tupperware containers of personal belongings with them.
Initial reactions appeared positive with residents smiling as they checked out their new units and laughing while they underwent their intake process. Tom told the Martlet that he was in love with his new home. Tom asked to be kept anonymous for fear of retribution.
Marc Major said that he likes how the site has plenty of outdoor space.
“I’m an outdoors person,” Major told the Martlet. “It’s gonna be fun for sure.”
However, not everyone is thrilled with what they’ve seen so far. Frank Mayers and his partner Ana say they have concerns about the level of privacy that tenants will be afforded. Ana asked that the Martlet not use her last name.*
Mayers has accepted a space in Tiny Town, but Ana and the couple’s dog Carol will have to find other accommodation as there is a no guest policy at the site. Mayers says he wasn’t informed by BC Housing that the units are single occupancy or that pets are allowed on a case-by-case basis. Ana says that she would like to see those in temporary housing given more control over their lives.
“We need to be able to come to a roundtable and the people with the lived experience need to be able to confer their working knowledge to the people that design the programs,” She told the Martlet.
The concerns about tenant rights stem from the nature of the agreement signed by residents. The rental agreement drawn up by Our Place is filed as a program agreement and not as a tenancy agreement under the Residential Tenancy Act.
Our Place Director of Communications Grant McKenzie told the Martlet that due to the temporary nature of their sites, an agreement under the Residential Tenancy Act wouldn’t work.
“They’re not permanent housing, you’re not a tenant, you’re in essence a resident,” McKenzie said. “The whole point is to get you moved into permanent housing so the program agreement is you have to abide by the rules of whichever site you’re going into.”
Thus far, McKenzie says that Tiny Town and Our Place’s other new temporary housing facility at Russell Street have been working out well. However, there have been two people evicted — one from each site due to fires being set off in their units. He says that it’s important to remember that these are temporary supportive housing and not care facilities.
“All these communities will have teething pains,” said McKenzie.
He said that in the future he’d like to see a housing model with multiple levels so that people get the support they need and aren’t forced into situations they aren’t ready for.
“I believe there has to be different levels of housing,” he said. “We have to make it so that when people arrive in our community, they don’t go and camp in the parks, they go through BC Housing, and they’re assessed to see what level of housing this should be given.”
Tiny Town is just one of several temporary housing facilities set up in recent months. Russell Street is another recently opened site being operated by Our Place, housing 70 people. Portland Hotel Society is operating the Save On Foods Memorial Centre, while BC Housing has bought the Capital City Centre Hotel, Paul’s Motor Inn, and the Comfort Inn Hotel. BC Housing says that 229 people have been moved indoors since December.
The provincial government plans to build 280 new units of supportive housing in the Capital Regional District (CRD) by Summer 2022. A 2020 point-in-time count estimated the CRD’s homeless population at 1500.
*Ana requested that her last name not be used out of concern for her privacy.