After months of uncertainty for 18 tenants at the Seabreeze Inne, the B.C. government announced Thursday it will fast track the building of 28 homes on Drake Road to get people most at risk of homelessness into permanent housing.
Up to 28 permanent homes with supports will be built on the Capital Regional District site at 161 Drake Rd., as well as a shelter and programming space. The Lady Minto Hospital Foundation has also agreed to extend the lease of tenants at the Seabreeze until construction on Drake Rd. is completed, at which time the most vulnerable residents will move into the newly built homes operated by Salt Spring Island Community Services Society.
With over 30 vacant positions at the hospital, the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation offered in the fall to purchase the 28-room Seabreeze Inne on Ganges Hill and transform it into 14-one bedroom apartments.
The foundation stepped in after plans by Community Services to buy the property fell through, as partners on the project BC Housing determined it didn’t meet their needs. “Despite their use an interim emergency measure, we know that hotels are not a suitable long-term solution for people experiencing homelessness,” the agency stated on the Drake Road project website.
Filling a need for hospital staff accommodation by buying the Seabreeze also meant the 18 current tenants, most of whom were on the verge of homelessness before moving there, would need to relocate. While the BC Housing lease of the Seabreeze was always meant to be a temporary measure ending at the end of the 2021 calendar year, the question of where the tenants would go remained unanswered for nearly two months until Drake Rd. plans were made public Jan. 20.
“The project will provide housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness in the community, including people who are living in Salt Spring’s temporary Seabreeze Inne and Fulford-Ganges shelters,” the news release from David Eby, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing stated.
Eby acknowledged that 28 units is not enough to house everyone at the Seabreeze and the shelter, which currently accommodates around 15 guests. BC Housing stated they will work with people to identify their needs. “The most vulnerable will be offered places at 161 Drake Road and we will work to find other housing solutions for those who require fewer supports,” the housing agency stated. “We are committed to ensuring that no one ends up back on the streets.”
Residents at Drake Rd. will be living independently, with supports including “daily meals, laundry, employment support, health supports, harm reduction and community programming” available.
The province is using the authority it has under the Interpretation Act to fast track the project straight to construction. Preparing the site and construction of the “modular project” is set to start “in the coming weeks.” The province expects the building to be open in late summer 2022.
The hospital foundation has agreed to lease the Seabreeze to BC Housing on a short-term basis while Drake Rd. construction is finished.
Once construction is completed, the most vulnerable residents from the Seabreeze and the shelter operated by Community Services on Fulford-Ganges road will relocate there. “BC Housing will also provide rent supplements to shelter guests who are able to live independently and want to rent in the private market,” BC Housing explained.
Eby praised the multiple organizations and agencies involved in making the project happen. “This successful collaboration between BC Housing, Capital Regional District, Islands Trust, Lady Minto Hospital Foundation, and Salt Spring and Southern Gulf Islands Community Services Society shows what we can accomplish when we work together,” he stated. “This outcome means health-care workers have a place to live on the island, and the most vulnerable residents of Salt Spring also have a home.”
BC Housing will be engaging with neighbours and the broader public in January. People can also submit their questions and comments on a website dedicated to the project or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
For much more on this story, see the Jan. 26 issue of the Driftwood newspaper.