Threshold Housing plans to have youth moving into Oak Bay by Sept. 1.
The organization that provides housing for young people, signed a five-year lease to use the church-owned building adjacent to Oak Bay United Church last week after meetings with the congregation and neighbourhood.
This project would fill an immediate need and prevents vulnerable youth from ending up on the street, said Mark Muldoon, the executive director of Threshold Housing, which receives more than 100 referrals a year and is able to provide 30 beds.
“Each youth comes with their own story as unique as a fingerprint,” Muldoon said.
The building on Granite Street was originally built as seniors’ housing and until two years ago was used as an Easter Seals home for families needing a place to stay during medical procedures in Victoria.
For the last two years, the eight bachelor suites and one larger unit were rented to students from Canadian College of Performing Arts, Camosun College and the University of Victoria. “But we’re not property managers and we wanted to do something with social value,” said church member Cheryl Thomas. “Threshold’s just a perfect match for us.”
The housing society officially takes the lead Aug. 1 after current leases expire and plan to immediately invest up to $100,000 in the property, with a goal to move tenants in a month later. Threshold targets youth age 16 to 24 in need of safe, secure and supported housing while they go to school or gain experience in the workforce. Youth are offered up to two years of transitional housing and programs.
“We’ve learned smaller is beautiful. You cultivate a warmer community, that’s what they crave,” Muldoon said. The suites offer privacy while the shared living room, dining room and kitchen are conducive to community, and perfect for Threshold programming.
“We like to think we’re in the preventative business,” said Jo-Anne Roberts, advancement and community relations consultant for Threshold.
“They’ve not become totally on the street … We’re able to turn off that tap to adult homelessness.”
Neighbours were concerned, said Thomas, attending a community meeting “with trepidation” and visions of hordes of drug-using kids.
“We have a fairly rigorous intake process,” said Muldoon. Youth can not be in active addiction or have recent law enforcement interaction. All pay proportional rent.
“These youth take housing very seriously and don’t want to lose their home,” Roberts said. “We’re talking a clientele that have a goal in life.”
These youth aren’t entrenched in street life, instead engaging in couch-surfing and staying with friends or who age out of the foster system, Muldoon said.
“Our demographic are the hidden homeless… that’s the fastest growing segment of homeless in Canada.”
Rev. Michelle Slater feels the project provides an opportunity for the congregation to help meet a critical need in the community while maintaining a valuable church asset.
“It’s a cliché to say it takes a village to raise a child. But it resonates with us (as a congregation) and it’s true,” Slater said. “Their village has failed them. We can be their village. This community, Oak Bay, is a great village.”
Threshold Housing operates three other facilities, Holly House, Mitchell House and Forrest House, which lies just outside of Oak Bay’s borders.
It also supports a number of young people in apartments throughout the CRD through the Safe Housing for Youth program.