With Choices Transitional Home now closed in View Royal and the majority of its residents moved into the former Tally Ho Motel now being operated as supportive housing by the Victoria Cool Aid Society, the tenants are noticing a real difference.
One resident, who identifies himself as Randy, is among the nearly 40 people who transferred here from Choices.
“It’s way more spacious and way more cleaner,” he says, grabbing a coffee in the lounge/dining area that was once Kitty’s Hideaway. “Everything’s newer here. Just everything is good here, the staff are here for us … It’s like night and day compared to Choices in here, that’s all I can say.”
He is hopeful that his stay here will be a move toward more permanent housing, but he’s taking things a day at a time. “It’s hard to find housing, everybody’s aware of that. But for the best part I’m doing what I’m doing every day and remaining positive.”
The rooms are significantly larger than the one-time youth corrections jail cells at Choices. Some have kitchenettes, others have a microwave, but all are clean with new bedding and have been freshened up since the motel closed. In terms of keeping things clean, residents are left to their own habits, but a client service worker is available to support them in adjusting to living in a larger space.
Another Choices transfer, Trevor, foresees that the facility and its services will help residents gain more stability in their lives. Personally, he calls the move a “big step up” from Choices for features like the individual washrooms, on-premise laundry facilities, the lounge area and of course, the meals.
In taking over and renovating the building, Cool Aid gutted the original bar kitchen on site and created a facility they can be proud of, says head chef and food service co-ordinator Paul Stewart.
“The feedback’s been great,” he says of resident comments. “The food quality is up there, it’s made with care and I think they taste that, so that’s important to us as well.”
The small staff cook breakfast and dinner for 50 people daily. And with a training program getting underway to teach kitchen skills to residents, it’s expected there’ll be help available in putting on the meals.
In terms of the rooms, 45 of the 52 spaces had been filled as of Tuesday, says John Sherratt, manager of supportive housing for Cool Aid.
With three people due to transfer from Mount Edwards Court on Vancouver Street, four rooms will be left. Sherratt doesn’t expect they will remain vacant for long. But it’s not as if there’s a waiting list for the spots, he says, “because waiting indicates time.”
“What we look to more is ‘need,’ and do they fit into the building,” he says.
The ground floor of rooms, accessible only to those with the correct fob, is a “quiet zone.” The area is designed to give people more sensitive to noise and activity a safe space, Sherratt said, and to accommodate those who are working.
Steps away but accessible to all residents is a door leading to the onetime pool and patio area. The pool has been filled in with soil and grass planted, and various plants have been placed around to create a comfortable outdoor space, albeit one looking directly onto the busy Jim Pattison Toyota dealership.
There’s still a few overflowing shopping carts in the parking lot, a sign that some residents may not be quite ready to give up some of the vestiges of their past life.
“Someone first and foremost has to feel secure,” Sherratt explains. “Once someone feels safe and secure, they begin to give up some of the possessions.”
The activities being ramped up here include a ready-to-rent program designed to teach good tenant-landlord relations, a music program and a health protocol with doctors and nurses from Cool Aid’s downtown clinic stopping in regularly.
The temporary use permit granted for the site by the City of Victoria lasts just three years, although Cool Aid has begun working on plans to develop a purpose-built building on the back parking lot. But that time restriction isn’t being emphasized for tenants, Sherratt notes. More important for now, he says, is assuring them they’re in a supported environment and helping tenants feel a part of something.
“One of the primary goals is to build a sense of community.”