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Victoria project looks to turn shipping containers into tiny homes for the homeless

Click to play video 'Innovative housing program to build affordable homes in Victoria' Innovative housing program to build affordable homes in Victoria
A housing group and a development company have teamed up to turn shipping containers into small homes for people currently living in the city's parks. Kylie Stanton reports – Jan 8, 2021

The City of Victoria could soon be home to an innovative new tiny home village, meant to address the region’s homelessness crisis.

The pilot project, dubbed “Hey Neighbour,” is working to repurpose 30 shipping containers into tiny homes for people as they await more stable, permanent housing.

Read more: Victoria council to debate giving free bus tickets, passes to the homeless

Each 160-square-foot unit would come equipped with a bed, a desk, a hot plate and a mini fridge.

Showers and bathrooms would be in a separate, common area.

Click to play video 'Victoria homeless count and new city motion' Victoria homeless count and new city motion
Victoria homeless count and new city motion – Aug 10, 2020

Victoria’s last homeless count in March, 2020 found 1,523 homeless people living in the city.

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Luke Mari, principal with Aryze Developments, said the idea was to fill the gap in transitional housing currently available.

“We just looked at the state of the housing need in Victoria, and just found that the discourse was either tents in parks or full modular housing,” he said.

“We thought there’s got to be something that’s quick, in-between, that gives people access to safe weather protected housing.”

Read more: Victoria’s mayor will seek to block return of homeless campers to Centennial Square

The initiative has won the support of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

It’s also proven popular with residents, with a crowd-funding campaign nearly halfway to the $500,000 goal to build the project.

“What this says is that community really cares,” Kelly Roth, executive director of Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, said.

“We often hear the bad news stories and the negative things, and that seems to make bigger news, however, we have had an unbelievable outpouring of not just financial support but the volunteerism.”

Roth said COVID-19 had exacerbated an already challenging homelessness situation in the city.

Click to play video 'Campers allowed back to Victoria’s Centennial Square after clearout' Campers allowed back to Victoria’s Centennial Square after clearout
Campers allowed back to Victoria’s Centennial Square after clearout – Sep 4, 2020

While the region’s homeless have been “fairly stabilized” in the city’s parks, the situation remained far from ideal, she said.

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“If you think about waking up in the morning or the middle of the night with snow in your tent or rain pouring into it and being cold, and being scared, and not wanting to be there … it’s a game changer for people to be able to be inside a space with a locked door they can call their own.”

Read more: City of Victoria seeks court order to move homeless people in Beacon Hill Park

Sarah Murray, executive director of the North Park Neighbourhood Association, was also supportive.

Murray said that there had always been homeless campers in Victoria’s parks, but that since COVID-19 the encampments have become semi-permanent.

The association has been advocating to the city for better coordination of the sheltering that’s going on in Victoria’s parks.

“Shipping containers are more secure, they give people more privacy, they’re insulated, they’re fire proof, they’re just all around a better solution than people living in tents,” she said.

Click to play video 'City of Victoria wrestles with homelessness dilemma' City of Victoria wrestles with homelessness dilemma
City of Victoria wrestles with homelessness dilemma – Jun 4, 2020

“Acknowledging that shipping containers are still not a home, this is an intermediate step that will hopefully keep people more comfortable while they’re awaiting long-term stable housing.”

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Advocates expect to be able to build the first 15 units in the project with the funding that’s already come in, but are still hoping to fill the gap.

The City of Victoria will also need to approve a location for the project.