Cities Need Housing for Economic Recovery

This piece was co-written by myself, Mayor Rebecca Alty, Yellowknife, Councillor Cindy Gilroy, Winnipeg, Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, Kitchener and was originally published here in National Newswatch. We are members of the Right to Home Municipal Working Group, which brings together elected officials and city staff from across Canada committed to securing the right to housing. It is convened by The Shift and the Canadian Urban Institute.

In cities across the country, we’ve witnessed the devastating effects of housing insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic unfold on our streets and in our parks.  In the early days last March, shelters closed or cut their numbers, and many people were forced into doorways or tents.  Others lost their jobs and couldn’t pay rent, and – even with all the government supports available – fell into homelessness.

Many low-income people have managed to hold onto their housing but are paying even more of their monthly income for shelter than they were pre-pandemic; this leaves less money for other necessities like food, childcare, and transportation costs.  Indigenous people, Black people, and people of colour have been disproportionately impacted by housing insecurity, housing loss, and by COVID-19 cases and deaths, often as a direct result of living in inadequate or crowded housing.

Next week’s federal budget is an opportunity for the government to write Canada’s future story and uphold its human rights commitments.  We understand that there are many pressures on the public purse; we feel these every day locally, as we also have to make difficult choices.

But we can’t state strongly enough that unless Budget 2021 makes significant and immediate investments in housing that reach those in need, economic recovery will be slow and uneven. Cities across the country – which are the engines of innovation in an increasingly knowledge-based economy – will have to spend continued time, energy, and resources dealing with the issue of homelessness, rather than on broader recovery efforts, and residents will not benefit from a recovery plan if they do not have decent housing that is affordable to them.

By adopting a human rights-based approach to housing through the National Housing Strategy Act of 2019, the Federal government has committed to addressing homelessness on an urgent and priority basis.  The $1 billion federal Rapid Housing Initiative that rolled out in September 2020 was a good start.  This program will see the immediate creation of 4700 supportive housing units across the country, 1700 of which are due directly to the investment and contribution of provinces and cities.  With over 200,000 Canadians sleeping outside each night, and 27,000 chronically homeless who have lived on our streets for years, there is more to do.

A report by Carleton Professor Steve Pomeroy commissioned by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness shows that over the next 10 years, Canadian taxpayers will spend $70 billion to continue to manage homelessness.  Ending it would cost just $52 billion – a savings of $18 billion. The $52 billion plan would prevent an additional 300,000 Canadians from falling into homelessness, and it would create 500,000 well-paying jobs in the construction sector.  Not only does ending homelessness ensure compliance with the federal government’s human rights commitments, it makes good fiscal sense.

And, it’s the kind of bold, ambitious action that our cities and our most vulnerable residents require.  As a start, in Budget 2021 we’d like to see a $7 billion expansion of the Rapid Housing Initiative.  This will create at least 21,000 additional units of housing within a year for people facing homelessness.  If the federal funds are leveraged further with investment from provinces and land from cities, even more housing will be built.

We know that building new housing isn’t enough.  Between 2011 and 2016, the number of private rental units affordable to households earning less than $30,000 per year (rents below $750) declined by 322,600 units.  This trend is continuing as older rental stock is purchased by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) that significantly drive up rent levels and drive out tenants.  The current National Housing Strategy proposes to build only 15,000 units per year over ten years. This means we’re currently losing far more affordable housing than we’re building.

Budget 2021 should create a significant fund for non-profit housing providers to acquire older market rental housing, renovate it as units turnover, and keep it affordable in perpetuity.  This will protect the seniors in our communities who live on fixed incomes, students who pay high tuition costs, women-led single-parent families, and people working in low-income jobs who can’t afford to pay market rents in any city in this country.  Budget 2021 should also include immediate rent relief measures for renters.

We are not alone in our call for a housing focus in Budget 2021.  A poll conducted by Nanos Research in August 2020 shows that 84% of Canadians support or somewhat support affordable housing investment as part of pandemic recovery economic stimulus.  And our residents in cities from coast to coast to coast call and email us every day asking us to do something about the housing crisis.

As cities, our roles and resources are limited.  But we’re here as partners nonetheless.  We pledge to work together with the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to create a future story for our country where every person has their right to housing met.  Doing so makes common sense, fiscal sense, and will help ensure a speedy, inclusive, and lasting recovery.

There Is A Rape Culture in Victoria, and Everywhere

You can donate to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre here.

Trigger warning: This post contains discussions of rape, sexual assault, and violence against women.

For those who haven’t been following social media over the past week in Victoria, this post will come as a bit of a surprise and maybe a shock. In the past few months on an Instagram account @survivorstoriesproject, women working in the restaurant industry have been reporting sexual assaults. More recently, on the same account, women reported sexual violence by a number of Victoria real estate agents.

In response, on social media last Saturday, Victoria Councillor Stephen Andrew posted the following tweet:

He has since apologized, acknowledged the existence of rape culture, and made a motion for Victoria Council to create a task force to address sexual abuse. More on the motion below.*

Some may wonder how anyone could claim that rape culture doesn’t exist. There’s an easy answer: It’s the very misogynistic and patriarchal organization of western society that perpetuates rape culture, that makes it possible to claim that rape culture doesn’t exist. In other words, it is male privilege to be able to be blind to the existence of rape culture.

Rape Culture Rape culture is defined as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

So many women have written to me this past week outraged, thoughtful and courageous. They’ve outlined, once again, how patriarchy and misogyny work. Many put it so eloquently. Here is what one woman wrote:

“We are fearful walking home after dark, we go for runs without headphones, we avoid booking male massage therapists and other practitioners that place us in a vulnerable position without prior recommendation and vetting from friends, we are uneasy taking public transportation in certain areas or times of day, we can’t leave our drinks unattended, we smile and we laugh in uncomfortable situations until we can politely escape for fear of making the situation worse. The list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on. I have done all of these things. I know hundreds of women who do these things daily. I would say that this is representative of a culture and society that demands women make unreasonable sacrifices to avoid sexual assault, wouldn’t you?”

In this culture, women, transgender and non-binary people face sexual violence. Over the last 10 years, sexual assault is the only violent crime on the increase in British Columbia and across Canada. Statistics Canada states that less than 5% of victims of sexual violence report to police. This number is likely lower because when these studies are done, rarely do teens and young adults – those at greatest risk of being sexually assaulted – answer the phone and respond to surveys. Of the less than 5% who report, few ever result in charges and only 1.8% (of the 5%) result in convictions. We need to collectively work to change these conditions and make it easier and safer for survivors to speak out and to receive justice.

As noted above, rape culture is also perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language. Brace yourselves for the text I received yesterday afternoon:

“Notice the bottle neck you created on the Tillicum bridge. More traffic congestion more pollution. Well done you dumb CUNT! Article 16 on your blog post on Clover Point you point out what cities like Oakland are doing if that’s what you want do what the majority of Victorians want you to do, fuck off and go there before you do anymore damage to our city. You dumb CUNT!”

I felt sick to my stomach. And shamed. I’m not sure if it’s the capitalization of the word that’s most upsetting, or the fact that the writer needed to say it twice, or the fact that the “Tillicum bridge” isn’t even in Victoria and it’s just easy and convenient to use violent language to blame me – a female politician. It turns out the writer is referring to a wonderful pedestrian improvement project spearheaded jointly by Esquimalt Council and Saanich Council on the Gorge Road Bridge.

I just finished reading a compelling book by Indigenous author Alicia Elliott, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. Last weekend, as the social media firestorm was unfolding, I happened to be reading the chapter called “On Forbidden Rooms and Intentional Forgetting,” where she talks about her experience of being raped.

She writes, “Arguing that a woman deserves to police the boundaries of her own body – boundaries that are continually, sometimes violently broken by men who have been taught to disregard women’s active, informed consent – is a task similar to Sisyphus rolling a boulder up hill, waiting for it to roll back down and crush him. It’s contrary to all that we’ve been taught about women and men. It questions the very legitimacy of Western misogyny, and thus, Western society. In other words, it’s blasphemy.”

Her words are so strong and powerful, just like all of the survivors who have the courage to speak up. And all the wonderful staff at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre and the @survivorstoriesproject followers who support them. Keep raising your voices. The world needs to hear us. For men who want to help, thank you. Please donate to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre here. Examine your privilege, work to address it, don’t be complicit. We need you.

*Re: Councillor Andrew’s motion cited above: Council postponed consideration of the motion on Thursday until we receive a report from staff on work already underway based on an earlier motion made by Councillors Potts and Loveday to address sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. The staff report will outline what jurisdiction, if any, the City has to directly address sexual violence. We won’t set up a task force that gives hope to survivors, only to have the system fail them once again if there’s nothing the City within its jurisdiction can do. Of course we will continue to advocate. And, the City has been funding the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre Clinic – the first of it’s kind in British Columbia – since it opened.

“Community Making” Requires Housing of All Sorts – Three Big Ideas

Last Thursday, at a public hearing for a proposed new condo building on Rockland Ave near Cook Street, a neighbour spoke to Council in favour of the new housing. He listed all the types of housing in the area: he lives in a townhouse; this new condo building is proposed on the lot next door; Council recently approved a five story rental building nearby on Cook Street; and just this past week the Province announced a new supportive housing building nearby on Meares Street. The neighbour said he supports all of these housing types in his neighbourhood because a diversity of housing is key to good “community making.”

Council voted in favour of the proposal. And, earlier in the evening, Council also supported 34 new townhouses in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood on Washington Street. The townhouses are two, three and four bedroom and are designed to provide homes for families. The past week also saw the Province announce close to 300 new supportive housing units in the region, including 192 in the City of Victoria.

It was a good week for housing in the city – from much-needed missing middle housing like townhouses, to small condos that enable young people to enter the housing market, to housing for people exiting homelessness. But is it enough? And what about the process?

New provincial legislation adopted in 2018 requires that each local government undertake a “Housing Needs Survey” every five years to identify gaps in the housing ecosystem. Victoria’s assessment completed in late 2020 reveals a stark housing shortage and great housing need.

In 2019, the average price for a single family home was $939,066. For a townhouse, $686,849. And for a condo, $501,352. Based on these prices, the average single-detached home and townhouse is unaffordable to any household in Victoria earning the median income. Only condos are affordable for couples with children and other families earning the median income. A household requires an annual income of approximately $105,000 for a condo to be affordable (e.g. spending less than 30% of before-tax household income), and $145,000 annual income for a townhouse.

The median rent in 2019 was $1,150, which would require an annual income of approximately $50,520 to be affordable. Renter households relying on a single income are likely struggle to find affordable and suitable housing in Victoria. Renter households led by lone parents or households with at least one senior are the households most likely to be in core housing need. Being in core housing need means that people are living in housing that is inadequate, unsuitable, and/or currently unaffordable, and that they are unable to afford the median rent of alternative local housing.

The number of units the City’s needs assessment said were needed to meet demand between 2016 and 2020 was 2116. The actual number of building permits issued between 2015 and 2019 was 4516. Ninety-four point six per cent of these were for apartments and condos, 2.9% single family dwellings, 1.5% townhouses and 0.9% duplexes.

So … we doubled the number of units that were projected to be needed, yet here we are in 2021 with a rental vacancy rate hovering around 2 per cent, the cost of rent still increasing, house prices continuing to rise, and three bedroom units – from rentals, to condos to townhouses – suitable for families, almost impossible to come by.

We have a housing supply problem. If we don’t radically increase housing supply in the city in the near term, the results are going to be catastrophic. Some of the people at the public hearing Thursday who spoke in favour of the Washington Street townhouses said they wanted to stay in Victoria, not move out to Langford, but would never be able to afford a single family home here.

When people flee cities for suburban sprawl, the negative side effects include more time stuck in traffic and less time with family, a decrease in overall health outcomes, higher transportation costs, an increase in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss, as forests are cleared for new housing.

And, we also have a process problem. I’ve sat at the Council table for close to ten years and have become increasingly frustrated with how much time it takes to get a development through the process, and by the length of public hearings. The 20-unit Rhodo townhouse project on Fairfield Road took two and a half years to get approved and then a lawsuit to follow challenging the process. Thursday night, we sat in over four hours of public hearings to approve a mere 56 new homes. Our meeting ended at 1:11am. A few weeks ago, it took a three hour public hearing to approve one new small lot home. This is unnecessary process when we have a massive housing shortage on our hands.

Here are three big ideas to avoid catastrophe and make sure that there are enough homes in Victoria for people who want to live and work in Victoria.

  1. Amend the City’s Official Community Plan and rezone the whole city so that any currently-zoned-single-family lot can have up to four units as of right (without a rezoning) and six units as of right if two are below market in perpetuity. The fourplexes and sixplexes would need to adhere to design guidelines that fit with existing neighbourhood contexts. Kelowna has done something similar on a pilot basis through their Infill Challenge and RU7 Zoning.
  2. Get rid of parking minimums so that there are no parking requirements tied to the building of homes. As it stands right now, most city planning polices in North America require a certain number of parking spots to accompany most new residential buildings. Requiring parking adds expense to projects, locks in an unsustainable mode of transportation as the norm, and mandates the use of valuable city land for the storage of cars rather than for the housing of people. Last summer, Edmonton became the first major city in Canada to do this. Victoria should follow.
  3. Change provincial legislation so that any project that fits within a community’s Official Community Plan and respective design guidelines does not require a public hearing. What this means is that there will be an opportunity for public input on Official Community Plan amendments but not on anything that fits within the Official Community Plan. At the same time the Province should create a mechanism to ensure that local governments are still able to receive public amenities in exchange for extra density. I hope that our bright, exceedingly competent, and keen Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Housing will put their heads together and work with local governments to make this necessary legislative change as soon as possible.

These three ideas taken together will drastically increase the supply of housing in our city, help to make housing more affordable by increasing supply (although supply alone will not solve the affordability crisis for those living in poverty), and help to avoid the high costs of suburban sprawl. Implementing these ideas will also lead to better community making as the young man who spoke at the public hearing so eloquently put it.

Victoria Council’s Recent Decisions: A Glimpse Of Post-Pandemic Life In Cities

Proposed “Telus Ocean” office building at Humboldt and Douglas.

I’ve spent the past eight months writing blog posts in response to emails, primarily about homelessness. Each week we’ve received an average of 100 to 150 emails on this topic, many from the same people who write regularly. Of course I love to hear from the public, and to be responsive.

But this past week, another perspective came to light. I realize that I’ve been sucked into a bit of a negative bubble with respect to homelessness. I was almost in tears at Thursday’s public hearing for the Tiny Home village, when we learned that 570 people donated over $500,000 in just over two months to help create homes for their neighbours; I was struck once again by the generosity and goodwill of Victorians. This tells a different story than some of the emails I’ve been receiving, and letters to the editor in the Times Colonist about how Victorians feel towards their fellow community members who are living without homes.

This doesn’t mean that we bury our heads in the sand or ignore the many challenges we need to face. This excellent commentary in the Times Colonist this past week by UVic professor of Canadian history Lynne Marks makes the important point that there is more work to do with regard to discrimination against the poor, and racism, in Victoria. And we still have much work to do on housing with supports for those who are vulnerable.

I also realized that I’ve been continuously in response mode to homelessness in my Sunday blog posts rather than also focusing on all the other issues that Council is working on and initiatives that are happening in the community. So today I’m pivoting to address other issues and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. I do appreciate hearing from you so keep the emails coming! mayor@victoria.ca is the best way to reach me.

Council’s Recent Decisions A Glimpse of Post-Pandemic Life
In a panel discussion earlier this year on creating “15-minute neighbourhoods,” the speakers were asked to predict what post-COVID cities would look like. Two of the panelists made their predictions. A third, leading Canadian urbanist Jennifer Keesmaat, said that we shouldn’t try to predict what post-COVID cities would look like; we should create the cities we know we need and want for an inclusive, prosperous and sustainable future.

Victoria Council made a number of decisions last week that provide a glimpse of what life in cities will look like post-COVID.

People Will Go Back to the Office
There has been much speculation in many circles – from real estate professionals, to commercial property owners, to city planners – about whether the work-from-home culture created by COVID is here to stay. Some elements will certainly remain – more options for remote work and flexible work arrangements. Yet this past week, Council advanced a proposed project at Douglas Street and Humboldt called Telus Ocean to a public hearing. The proposed building would keep the 250 existing Telus jobs downtown and create space for 200 more people.

The fact that a major Canadian company is proposing to invest $100 million in downtown Victoria to build a new, state of the art office building is a strong indication that the physical office is here to stay. And that downtown will continue to be the economic heart of the region.

Telus Ocean still has many hurdles to clear before it ends up at a Thursday evening public hearing. And there are strong feelings about the proposed building, from those who can’t wait to see it built as part of the story of who Victoria is in the 21st century, to those who think the building should fit better into its heritage context and be more subservient to the Empress Hotel.

As required by Provincial legislation, I’ll reserve judgement and wait to see the final proposal at a public hearing. However, in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression when a project comes forward proposing to keep and create jobs downtown, philosophically, I felt it was important to move it forward to a public hearing rather than send it back to staff. This Times Colonist article does a good job of capturing Council’s discussion.

Arts, Culture and Live Events Will Thrive
Many of us who love the big-city arts and culture scene that Victoria offers – despite being a mid-sized city – have missed attending live performances, festivals, and art openings this past year. Artists and the arts organizations that support them pivoted creatively to bring us online content, too varied and extensive to begin to list here!

But arts can’t live only online. Post-pandemic Victoria will experience what one of my friends called, “a pent up demand for real life.” This past week, Victoria Council voted for the City to contribute $40,000 this year and $20,000 per year for the next five years as a founding supporter of a new arts hub at 851 Johnson Street in downtown Victoria. This will be operated by Theatre Skam for the benefit of a wide array of artists and performers.

The plan is for a shared performance hub, managed by artists, for artists. The centrepiece of the space will be a versatile black box performance theatre. A smaller second studio will be used for rehearsals, smaller performances, teaching, and small-scale visual art shows. They envision six offices available to rent by performance companies at below market rates. They’ll have hot desks for artists who need a space to work in an encouraging environment. Other ideas emerging include: a script library, visual artist painting room for rent by the hour, and storage of shared theatre equipment. This hub will help fuel the downtown creative economy.

Council voted unanimously to support this proposal. This sends a strong signal that arts and culture will play a leading role in post-pandemic Victoria. An arts and culture hub is a key action item from Create Victoria, our arts and culture master plan. Having the hub come to life now – out of the embers of the pandemic – will be an important part of feeding our spirits as well as our economic recovery.

More Public Spaces for More People
Near the beginning of the pandemic, when physical distancing was mandated, we watched cities around the world leap into action to make more space for people in public rights of way. In Victoria we created additional pedestrian space in village centres and we began Build Back Victoria, which enabled businesses to expand into city streets.

A year later, we’re seeing some business owners wanting these changes to become permanent. This past week Councillor Loveday and I brought forward a motion responding to petitions from businesses in the 1100 block of Broad Street to permanently close their block to car traffic. Take a look at what the block turned into last summer, you can see why they’d want to do this!

On April 15th, city staff will be bringing a report to Council with further recommendations for Build Back Victoria. I think we can expect to see what worked really well in summer 2020 – with patios and flex spaces popping up around the city, and main streets like Government prioritizing pedestrians – as featured elements of post-COVID life in Victoria, and in cities around the world. There will be more public spaces in cities turned over from the exclusive use of cars to more varied uses for a wider range of people.

Pedestrian priority Government Street in summer 2021.

Can-Do Spirit of Victoria, Clover Point Recap, Indoor Sheltering Update Plus How We Spend Money, and A Mother’s Email – Mayor’s Sunday Email – Sunday March 14

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to started this email / post with the op-ed I wrote for the Times Colonist on Thursday, which marked one year of the global health pandemic. The crafty headline writers at the paper gave it the title, “Can-do spirit of past year will help position city for the future.” I’m sharing it with all of you as a tribute to what we’ve all been through. If you wrote specifically about Clover Point or about homelessness and concerns with respect to parks sheltering and the plans to move people indoors, feel free to skip the op-ed and go right down to those headings. If you’d like to receive weekly updates, you can sign up here (top right hand side).

Can Do Spirit of Past Year
Today marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic. The flag at City Hall is flying at half-mast to recognize and mourn the lives that have been lost.

Today is also a moment for reflection: how we came together to fight COVID-19; how our lives have changed; what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained. It’s also a time to look forward, towards recovery and to what kind of economy we build for the future.

Each of us probably remembers where we were the moment life changed. I was at the Victoria airport on March 11, 2020. I’d checked in and was waiting for my flight to Ottawa for a conference and minister meetings. My phone rang and it was staff at City Hall suggesting I reconsider travelling.

I remember telling the woman at the Air Canada boarding gate that I wouldn’t be on the flight. “You and almost everyone else,” she said. Recognizing me as the mayor she said, “Good luck to you … good luck to all of us,” with a real sense of foreboding.

It’s much more than luck that has carried us through the last year. It’s the skill, courage and sheer fortitude of those working in our health care system. They risked their lives to keep us all safe. They showed up for shifts in the early days of the pandemic when so much about the disease was unknown. They tended to the sick and the dying. They are COVID-19 heroes.

So too the bus drivers who kept transit running so people could get to work. The grocery store cashiers and clerks. The teachers who got kids back to school in uncertain conditions. The City workers who kept providing the services we depend on like garbage pick-up, street cleaning, running water.

When the world shut down and we were told to stay at home, to work from home, those who couldn’t and didn’t – for the benefit of us all – deserve our deepest thanks.

We did thank them early on, banging pots at 7 p.m. On front porches and in backyards throughout the region, every evening the loud clanging clatter of thanks. That simple act brought us together, lifted our spirits. But then it stopped, our spirits fizzled, and COVID-19 fatigue began to set in.

Our bubbles started to feel small. We couldn’t go for dinner with a friend, take a trip, enjoy a symphony concert or a play. Sing in our choirs. Attend church in person. Many have lost jobs or had their work hours cut. The pandemic widened existing cracks in the social safety net, leaving our most vulnerable neighbours in desperate need of housing and support. Our kids’ mental health worries us, and maybe our own mental health does too. Our small businesses are struggling.

There have been some silver linings. The region’s generosity was evident in the early months of the pandemic when the Times Colonist, Victoria Foundation and Jawl Family Foundation launched the Rapid Relief Fund with the aim of raising $1 million. In less than two months, contributions small and large totalled $6 million, all of which went directly to non-profits providing services to people hit hard by the pandemic.

The Build Back Victoria initiative last summer showed how quickly Council can act and how agile City Hall can be. Within weeks, dozens of patios and retail “flex spaces” sprung up across the city to create more space for businesses to serve customers. I’ve had a number of business owners tell me that Build Back Victoria is the reason they’re still open. And I’ve had residents say to me that they’ve never spent as much time or money on Government Street as they did last summer.

Vaccines roll out next week, restrictions will be slowly eased, and life will start to feel normal again. As it does, we’ve got a lot of economic recovery work to do. Major sectors like tourism have been hard hit and need support. Emerging economic opportunities like the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST) need to be nurtured as key recovery projects.

In all sectors, women, youth, Indigenous people, people of colour, and low-wage service workers have been disproportionately impacted. According to the South Island Prosperity Partnership’s Reboot recovery vision, “we must collectively take bold steps to nurture a more inclusive and diversified economy.”

This has been one of the most difficult years in Victoria’s history. And we’ve made it through. In the coming months, let’s continue to use what we’ve learned during the pandemic – agility, deep collaboration, a can-do spirit – to position our city and our region for the future.  

Clover Point Decision Recap
Please see blog posts from February 28th and March 7th (head to Clover Point section in each post) for a more comprehensive explanation of the approach we’ve taken to Clover Point. In response to further emails this week, I’m sharing some information on the precise decision for those who may not have these details, and a link to the February 25th staff report. At the February 25 Committee of the Whole meeting, staff presented three options for the interim design of Clover Point Park. Council approved the below motion and we ratified it at our daytime Council meeting on March 4.

Interim Design Options for Parking and Pedestrian Space in Clover Point Park
That Council direct staff to proceed with Option 2 for Clover Point Park:

  1. Complete modifications to increase the pedestrian priority space in Clover Point Park, as illustrated in Attachment B, with an allocation of up to $275,000 in the 2021 Financial Plan, to be funded from the Buildings and Infrastructure Reserve.
  2. That the painting budget be restricted to delineating pedestrian trails and bike trails versus passive space.
  3. That a location be found downtown for the “follow the pod” public art feature.
  4. That staff be in consultation with immigrants and immigrant associations, ethno-cultural groups and the seniors’ advisory committee, youth council and City of Victoria youth council, Fairfield Gonzales Community Association, Accessibility Advisory Committee, Active Transportation Advisory Committee, and that their views are considered.
  5. That food trucks must use sustainable practices and must submit these practices to staff.
  6. That the budget for furniture be reduced to $50,000.

You can find the staff report and Council’s discussion from February 25 here.

Update on Parks Sheltering and Moves Indoors (and what the City spends money on)
Some of you who have written this week have asked us to ends parks sheltering immediately. Others have asked us to extend it indefinitely, or to the end of the pandemic. My hope is that Council sticks to our commitment, which is the middle ground between these two positions.

In November, Council passed a motion indicating that we would change the parks bylaw to end 24/7 sheltering once everyone currently living in parks has been offered an indoor sheltering space as a pathway to permanent housing. We had set a goal of March 31st. The Province and BC Housing accepted this goal and everyone has been working towards it. Parks are not homes. And Beacon Hill Park is not a campground. Parks have been used as emergency shelters in an emergency situation. A huge shout out to our parks staff who are working so hard to maintain Beacon Hill Park even in these very difficult circumstances. Please thank them when you see them.

As of this week the Province announced that it has secured a sufficient number of indoor spaces to support moving people inside. Because two of the sites secured this month require significant additional retrofitting to prepare them for use as emergency shelters, the process will continue until the end of April 2021, rather than the end of March as originally planned. Announcement of the final site list will be done in partnership with the city in the coming weeks once all of the agreements between BC Housing and the property owners have closed.

Following through on its commitment, at our evening Council meeting last Thursday, Council gave three readings to a parks bylaw amendment that would see the end of 24/7 sheltering as of May 1st. Council will consider adoption of the bylaw this Thursday.

All the indoor sheltering locations will be fully operational, with non-profit service providers identified, by April 30, 2021. At these locations, staff will be on site 24/7 to provide wraparound supports, including meal programs, life skills training, and health and wellness support services.

Fifty-seven people have moved inside since the beginning of March and moves will continue this coming week. People have moved inside from Ellis Street in Rock Bay, Cecelia Ravine Park, and 940 Caledonia. This site will be closed as of March 19th to make way for a Tiny Home development, subject to the outcome of an opportunity for the public to comment on the project at Council Thursday evening.

We expect a minimum of 52 moves this coming week into Capital City Centre and other sites. BC Housing is prioritizing people over 50 (down from 55), those at risk of COVID-19, those who are long-time homeless, and Indigenous people.

Here are four questions that one person has asked; they reflect questions from others of you as well. I have answered them a number of times – in some form – since August when I began weekly updates. Please read previous posts if you require further or more detailed information. You can find them here.

1. Why did you allow 24/7 camping in parks in the first place, given that this was not a requirement of the BC Ministry of Health?
A global pandemic was declared. Shelters closed. Couch-surfing ended. Bubbles got small. And people had nowhere to go. The City allowed people who had nowhere to go when everyone was told to stay at home to shelter in place. Dr. Henry advised on June 8th 2020 in a memo to all mayors in British Columbia that encampments should not be cleared unless there were safe indoor spaces for people to go. At this time, she has not rescinded her advice or sent any further memos. That’s why we’ve been working hard with the Province to secure safe indoor spaces so that we can move people inside and end encampments.

2. Why didn’t you admit the mistake and reverse course when it quickly became clear that 24/7 camping was a disastrous decision?
While there have been many difficulties with this situation for everyone involved, I don’t believe it is a mistake. I think there would have been a greater risk of the spread of COVID-19 had 200 to 400 people had to take down their tents every morning and move throughout the city. Plus, there was literally nowhere for people to go. Even Our Place and the library closed, two places where people without homes can spend time during the day.

3. Why are you intending to allow 7pm – 7am camping in parks after all campers have been offered accommodation? The BC Supreme Court decision does not require cities to allow camping in urban parks except when there is no sheltering alternative.
I agree. The goal is to have no camping in city parks and to have adequate indoor sheltering space for everyone who needs it. The goal is to achieve what is called “functional zero” when it comes to homelessness. What this means is that if someone becomes homeless, there is room in the emergency shelter and housing system to catch them immediately and to meet their needs, however complex, before their situation becomes chronic.

The 2009 BC Supreme Court decision ruled that people who have no homes have the right to erect shelters overnight. The decision uses words like “adequate sheltering alternative” or something like this. So it’s not just as simple as the number of shelter beds that may be available on a given night. If for example, someone is in recovery from drug or alcohol use and the only shelter beds available are ones where drug use and/or alcohol consumption is permitted, that may not be considered an “adequate” shelter for that person. The Supreme Court decision is not a simple numbers game.

4. Why do you refuse to acknowledge the extent to which the homeless population in Victoria consists of people from outside the region? We will never get ahead of the problem of housing so many people when there is a large and steady influx from other provinces.
What the bi-annual Point In Time Count shows is that the majority of people who are homeless in Victoria are from British Columbia. And, Council unanimously voted last August to ask the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) table to prioritize people for housing who have lived in the CRD for at least a year. Council does not make decisions about who gets housed. You can read the August 6th recommendation to Council from myself and Councillors Thornton-Joe, Loveday and Alto here. (See item J3.)

There seems to be a narrative emerging in some of the emails we’ve received, and probably also on social media, that instead of “wasting” money on bike lanes and Clover Point, the City should be spending money instead on housing, mental health and addictions. At then there is also a narrative that Council focuses on issues that are beyond our scope and that we should stay focused on what is properly within a municipal mandate.

Health care and housing are clearly – and constitutionally – the responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments. The City can and does partner with both levels of government; we sometimes provide land for housing. And we have a housing reserve fund in which we deposit $650,000 per year to help fund the creation of non-market housing by non-profit housing providers. But we are not responsible for housing, health care, mental health and addictions supports and we don’t have the revenue raising capacity or tools to fund these important services.

But cities are supposed to spend money on parks and improvements to transportation infrastructure. And, contrary to what seems like popular belief, most of the bike infrastructure in Victoria is not funded through property taxes. It is funded through gas tax funding which is remitted to local governments from the federal government each year and can only be used to fund sustainable projects. The City of Victoria is not alone in developing a high-quality bike network. This article, “Europe doubles down on cycling in post-COVID recovery plans,” celebrates the explosion of cycling infrastructure across Europe.

And just one more thing in this regard, because it gets raised so often: we spend millions every year paving roads and filling potholes. At the same time as we are building bike lanes and improving parks – to deliver on the City’s 20-year paving and road maintenance plan – we are increasing the paving budget up to a steady state of $7.9 million per year by 2023.

Road Paving – Major and Local Streets

Year                     Budget                                                                                                          
2018                     $2.8 million 
2019                     $2.6 million
2020                     $5.5 million
2021     $5.2 million
2022 (proposed)      $6.3 million
2023 (proposed)      $7.9 million

A Mother’s Story and Thanks
A mother sent me this email after reading my blog post last week.

“So, as the proud mother of a son who is both chronically disabled and homeless due to serious mental illness and has managed to survive on the streets of Victoria for many years: may I say that just LOOKING at the ‘Shelter Referral Card’ does some kind of deep healing to my heart.  I don’t even know that my son is ever going to receive one of these, but just knowing that people like him are is deeply, deeply encouraging to me.

I know that you and certain other concerned councillors are receiving a LOT of flack for these efforts from people who have no personal interest in really trying to understand the complex issue of homelessness.    Please know that there are MANY more mothers and brothers and sisters and grandparents out there who are BLESSING YOUR SOUL for this work, every single day.”

She shared this article with me from The Capital Daily, where parents of homeless Victorians speak. To all the parents, grandparents and siblings of people who are homeless out there in our city or across the province or country, we know it’s not their fault, and it’s not your fault either. The health and housing system fails those with the most chronic needs, over and over again. This is why we are working together with the Province and the federal government to make sure that the housing and health care systems work better together, and work for everyone.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

Indoor Sheltering Plan, Clover Point Recap and One Year Into A Pandemic – Mayor’s Sunday Email – March 7 2021

This is a sample of the card that people who are living outside will get when they are offered an indoor 24/7 space as a pathway to permanent housing.

Hello Everyone,

Thanks for your emails this past week. As always, to ensure a timely response, I’m writing back to all of you at once. If there is additional information that you’re looking for with respect to sheltering in parks, the move to indoors, or Clover Point, please head directly to my blog here and check back over the past few weeks and months. If you’d like to receive a weekly email you can sign up here, top right hand side.

I’d like to begin by asking everyone to take a moment of silence for the two people who died this week in Beacon Hill Park.

In a country as prosperous as Canada, a province as prosperous as British Columbia, and a city as prosperous as Victoria no one should die alone, outside, in a park.

Many of your emails this week echo concerns we’ve heard from many months now about the situation of people sheltering outside. You want to know what the plan is. Many of you express frustration at the situation, are worried about some of the violence you’re hearing about. Others are worried about those who are living outside who are vulnerable and subject to violence, stigma and discrimination. You want us to do more, and to do better, and to do quickly.

For the past year, we’ve been in our small bubbles, not able to go for dinner with a friend, take a trip, enjoy a symphony concert or a play. Sing in our choirs. Attend church in person. Some have lost jobs. Our kids’ mental health has been stretched, and maybe our own mental health has too. Some of us have been living outside in tents for months. We’re quick to anger, blame. Our frustration is boiling over. One year into a global health pandemic everyone is on edge.

I will out outline the plan for getting people indoors, I’ll respond to your other concerns, and I’ll update and recap the Clover Point decision. In the meantime, what I’d like to ask for, from everyone, over the next weeks and months as we come out the other side of the pandemic and the parks sheltering situation, is for all of us to work together to take the temperature down. I was reminded recently of a really simple piece of wisdom: when in doubt be generous. Generous in spirit. Generous in the face of anger, frustration, confrontation.

Indoor Sheltering Plan
Please share this section of the blog post widely with anyone who has questions about what to expect in the next few weeks. I’ll keep it tight and factual.

In November, Council adopted this motion:

“That the City of Victoria works with the Province and other partners to offer housing or indoor shelter with a path to permanent housing for everyone currently sheltering in City parks by March 31st 2021 and directs staff to bring forward amendments to the Parks Regulation Bylaw so that the temporary measures including 24/7 camping expire on March 31st 2021. Final adoption of these amendments are to be scheduled once it is clear that adequate housing and shelter space will be made available by the March 31st deadline.”

Since November, the Province, the City and many others have worked together to follow through on this direction. Here is what has happened in the past week and what to expect in the next few weeks.

  1. This week 49 people moved inside, 45 into the arena and four into other locations. Most of the moves happened from Ellis Street, Cecilia Ravine Park, and the Royal Athletic Park parking lot.
  2. All parks where people are living and most of the people living in them are known to BC Housing. BC Housing, PEERs and others have been working in parks for the past couple of months to ensure that everyone has housing applications filled out.
  3. Having a housing application filled out is the pathway to permanent housing. People can do so here.
  4. All move ins are being organized through the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) process.
  5. Offers are not being made on a park by park basis, but based on the CAA process and individual housing applications. Everyone who has been identified as living in an encampment in a city park will be made an offer in the coming weeks.
  6. The CAA table meets every Tuesday to evaluate applications.
  7. The following spaces have been identified / confirmed:
    45 Arena (full)
    52 Capital City Centre
    30 Tiny Homes
    5 Mt Edwards
    15 Comfort Inn Annex
    5 Youth Hostel
    Total Confirmed Units: 152
    These numbers are subject to change and are the latest available information as of Friday March 5th.
    Approximate number of units short: 50-70-ish
  8. We expect more sheltering opportunities to become available in the coming weeks. We don’t know where these will be.
  9. In addition to these 152 identified units, there are other spaces that are available mostly to people already living in shelters, motels or supportive housing. As these people move into these other spaces, this will create more spaces for people coming directly out of parks. This is a slow process.
  10. There are 24 units at Hockley House, a new Capital Regional Housing Corporation (CRHC) building in Langford that rent at $375 per month; 13 people have been identified so far to move in there at the end of March, CRHC is evaluating applications. The remaining 11 spaces will be assigned through the CAA process and applications forwarded to the CRHC. 
  11. There are approximately 30 two-bedroom units that rent at $1625 per month in a new CRHC building in View Royal. These would be suitable for roommates with one rent supplement each. There are approximately 70, $825-per-month rent supplements available through BC Housing. These are available to rent market apartments and are for people who can live independently. The two-bedroom, roommate situation is on the CAA’s radar but difficult to coordinate.
  12. This coming week, offers will be made for Capital City Centre and move ins will begin the week of March 15th.
  13. In the coming weeks, offers will be made to the other locations noted above, and to other locations as they become available.
  14. The criteria being used to prioritize people – with the most vulnerable being offered spaces first – is over 55, risk of COVID-19, long-time homeless, Indigenous.
  15. Island Health has been part of the planning for the move-ins over the past few months and will work to ensure that people have the physical health, mental health and other supports they may need as they move inside.
  16. When people receive an offer they will get a card as pictured above and will be assisted to move into the identified location.
  17. Not everyone will be offered a motel room; those who move into the non-motel room spaces like the arena and others that may become available, will move into permanent housing first.
  18. If you turn down an invitation to go indoors, you may still be considered for future shelter or housing opportunities. There is no guarantee of another opportunity, but applications will remain valid and will be considered as vacancies are available in the BC Housing system.
  19. 24/7 sheltering ending is contingent on people already identified in encampments being offered a 24/7 indoor sheltering space as a pathway to permanent housing. A motion of Council is required to re-instate the 7pm-7am only sheltering bylaw.

Other Sheltering Related Questions and Concerns
Some of you have raised other questions and concerns that aren’t covered above. I’ll do my best to address them here, again with a numbered list for ease and readability! I do like to write in paragraphs rather than lists but also want to make sure that I share as much information as possible in as concise a way as possible. I’ll go back to paragraphs once we get to the other side.

  1. Some people will need more help and support than supportive housing can offer. This is why myself and the 12 other mayors in the province that make up the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus – which are all facing the same homelessness, mental health and substance use crises – are working with Ministers Eby and Malcolmson on Complex Care Housing. Please read our recent op-ed to learn more.
  2. Our police officers, bylaw officers, parks and public works staff are all doing incredibly difficult work in very challenging circumstances. I, like many of you, am grateful to them for their work. I will continue to support funding and resource requests to ensure they have they have what they need to do their work.
  3. Some of you have asked, “What has happened to our once beautiful city?” Part of my PhD research focused on Victoria in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. I read hundreds of reels of microfilm of Victoria’s daily newspapers, and people then were asking the exact same question. What is happening to our city and other cities across the province and country, is that we are in the middle of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now, like then, those who are suffering the most are the most visible. In the 1930s, people were upset to see jobless men in bread lines, the long line ups at the City’s relief office, and a feeling of general disorder and upheaval. In 2020-2021, it is people without homes living in parks that are the most visible. What we’re seeing now is the manifestation of the pandemic, just as in the 1930s what Victorians witnessed was the manifestation of the Great Depression.
  4. This is not to dismiss the challenges facing us. I have read all your emails. I share your concerns. The situation we are in with people living in parks in the middle of a global health pandemic isn’t good for anyone. Hence the plan above. Council and city staff are working hard every day with our dedicated and committed partners to address the issues that many of you have raised. This is a tough problem and it takes a lot of people working collaboratively and a lot of time to resolve.
  5. Some of you have asked myself and Council to support no sheltering in Central Park. I do support this, as well no sheltering in Centennial Square and Cecelia Ravine Park. Downtown, North Park and Burnside Gorge already host most of the shelters and supportive housing units in the city.
  6. Thank you to those of you who have sent suggestions, from buying old ferries to temporarily house people to sharing what Finland has done to end homelessness. All these creative ideas are welcome.

Clover Point
I understand that we touched a nerve with Clover Point. I think this is probably because the idea was sprung on you with no warning. I get how this is unsettling and disruptive, especially in the middle of a pandemic with so much uncertainty already. Those creature comforts and familiar experiences like sitting in a car watching that waves at Clover Point are really important.

I won’t recap everything I shared in my email / blog post last week about why now and the interim nature of the changes. For those of you who haven’t yet read that post, with all the details, I would really appreciate it if you take the time to do so. You can find the information here; skip down to the Clover Point heading.

And thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Some of you who want Clover Point to remain exactly as it was say that you sharing your perspectives with me is not going to change my mind. But hearing your thoughts and perspectives over the past few weeks did change my mind from making Clover Point pedestrian only to moving towards a middle ground. This new compromise option is temporary – let’s see how it goes and how the space is used over the next couple of years.

Turning the Problem Around
Many of you have written with points of view that are very different from mine, whether it’s about Clover Point, parks sheltering, downtown, the role of cities, the Vancouver Street bike lanes and more. The gift of being mayor is that I get to read all these different points of view. And I consider them all; that’s my job.

In a book I finished recently, Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities, Adam Kahane writes about a team that he worked with to develop democracy in post-apartheid South Africa: “When they listened, they were not just reloading their old tapes. They were receptive to new ideas. More than that, they were willing to be influenced and changed. They held their ideas lightly; they noticed and questioned their own thinking; they separated themselves from their ideas (‘I am not my ideas, and so you and I can reject them without rejecting me’). They ‘suspended’ their ideas, as if on strings from the ceiling, and walked around and looked at these ideas from different perspectives.”

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

Clover Point, Parks Sheltering and Indoor Sheltering – Mayor’s Sunday Email – February 28 2021

Hello everyone,

Thanks for your emails over the past couple of weeks. I really appreciate hearing from all of you and want to ensure you get a timely response, so I’m writing you back all at once. I may not address the details of your email precisely, but I want you to know I’ve read them.

I’m going to take a bit of a different tack than usual and provide a succinct summary of the issues and facts as I understand them. Interested in Clover Point? Skip to that heading. Interested in the plans provide 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunities as a pathway to permanent housing to everyone living in our parks over the next 31 days? Please skip to that heading. Want to receive a weekly email? You can sign up here (top right hand side). Interested in none of the above and just want a dose of inspiration from Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom? Skip right to the end.

Before diving into either topic, I just wanted to say that there’s sure a lot of passion and thoughtfulness in my email inbox from all of you these past few weeks. I appreciate the thoughtfulness, passion and the stories that you’ve taken the time to share. And I also really appreciate those of you who have said that you’ve never written to mayor and council before but felt the need to do so. Thank you.

What I find a bit harder to take are the personal attacks (there aren’t too many of those but important not just note the positive!). And also the fact that it’s becoming more difficult generally to have a difference of opinion without becoming enemies or falling into the I’m Right and You’re An Idiot (great book I highly recommend it, or skip the book and hear the talk) way of thinking. Making each other into enemies doesn’t get us anywhere and it makes it more difficult to resolve issues and solve complex problems.

Clover Point

  1. People love this place very much and there are strong feelings in the community – both in the city and the region – that it should be kept the way it’s always been.
  2. It’s been a parking loop since 1956.
  3. Before the sewage treatment construction began, the plan was to return it to a parking loop after construction finished.
  4. Before the sewage treatment construction began, the plan was for what is now the highly used multi-use trail that runs from Clover Point to Ogden Point be a bike path only.
  5. Near the end of the sewage treatment construction, staff recommended to Council that the path be for everyone – not just for people riding bikes – because we are in a pandemic and everyone needs more outdoor space. Council voted in favour of this recommendation.
  6. Staff saw that this new multi-use pathway quickly became much loved with hundreds of people using it on a daily basis. They thought it might be a good idea to create more pedestrian space at Clover Point, on an interim basis, since the new pedestrian space along the waterfront was being so well-used.
  7. Staff proposed to close Clover Point to cars and create parking, including accessible parking at the top of the loop as an interim treatment until a proper consultation plan for more permanent changes is undertaken, which is planned for 2023.
  8. When the City undertakes parks upgrades, we seek detailed input from the public generally over a two-year period. This leads to really great parks designs where people who have contributed see their ideas come to life. This was the case recently with Topaz Park, Songhees Park, Cecilia Ravine Park and sč̓əmaθən Peter Pollen Waterfront Park.
  9. Many of you have made some great suggestions for Clover Point that can be considered as part of the longer term planning process.
  10. When staff presented the original pedestrian-only design to Council on February 11th, Council voted to send it back to staff to come up with an option which would reflect the feedback we had all received from the community and to come up with a compromise.
  11. On February 25th staff came back to Council with a number of options including one that best represented a compromise among those who wanted the park to only be open to pedestrians and those who wanted nothing to change. This option creates new westward facing parking spots at the top of the loop and keeps half of the loop on the east side open for people in cars. There are accessible parking spots in both locations.
  12. As part of the discussion on the 25th, Council eliminated the proposal for painting of the pavement (except lines to separate pedestrians and cyclists) as well as eliminating the Orca play feature.
  13. Council voted 8-1 in favour of the compromise option.
  14. There are no permanent changes being made to the area. Everything that is being installed can be easily removed, with the exception of the new parking spaces at the top of the loop near Dallas Rd.
  15. The option that Council chose does not satisfy everyone and many of you are unhappy with this decision, with myself, and with Council. Some of you feel like we are changing the city too much, that we are “anti-car” and that we should just leave the city as it has always been.
  16. Cities around the world, from Paris, to Oakland,to Toronto, to small cities in Quebec and many others, are rethinking the purpose of streets, cities and city life, and are making decisions to get cities ready for the future. This includes accommodating increased density, greater populations, low-carbon transport, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and more places for more people.
  17. The interim changes at Clover Point, as well as the City’s bike network and complete streets approach that some of you who have written this week are also unhappy about, are directly in line with what other cities across the country and around the world are doing. Victoria is not leading and we are not any different. The bike network, complete streets and the interim design at Clover Point fit with the City’s Climate Leadership Plan as well as our Sustainable Mobility Strategy.
  18. Many of you have said that the myself and Council don’t care about seniors or accessibility issues, yet Victoria is one of the few municipalities in British Columbia that has taken the time to engage seniors and people with accessibility challenges and to have developed both a Senior’s Action Plan and an Accessibility Framework.
  19. We are not going to make everyone happy. Many of you who have written this past week about Clover Point are unhappy. I understand that. Change is hard. I don’t mean this in a patronizing way that some of you have heard it in. I mean it sincerely. Change is hard. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for Council. It is definitely easier to leave everything the same, as it has always been. There is less tension that way. Less friction. Less division. Less emails to read! 🙂 But also the job of leaders is to make the changes now that are necessary, if difficult, in order to get our city ready for the future.

Parks Sheltering and Indoor Sheltering
These points below are as direct as answers as possible to your questions, comments and concerns. I have been writing almost every Sunday since August to keep the community up to date on the parks and indoor sheltering situation. If you don’t find all the information you need here, please feel free to scroll through my blog .

  1. The City and the Province along with outreach workers, housing providers, Island Health, and others are working to offer everyone currently living in parks a 24/7 indoor sheltering space by March 31st as a pathway to permanent housing.
  2. The move ins begin on Monday to the Save on Foods Memorial Arena. There are also spaces at the Youth Hostel, additional motel rooms at Capital City Centre that will be opening, the 30 Tiny Homes (subject to a temporary use permit hearing), and 24 new homes at Hockley House in Langford that rent at $375 per month. The Province is still working to secure more spaces by March 31st. Minister Eby has said they are going to “overshoot” so that no one is left behind.
  3. Those of you who are living outside who have filled out BC Housing applications will be given “offer cards” to let you know where you have an offer to move in. You will be provided assistance with moves. The Coordinated Assessment and Access table responsible for these offers is working hard to meet the needs that people have identified. People are free to refuse the offers of 24/7 indoor sheltering. Those who choose not to go inside will need to take their tents down every morning, as 24/7 sheltering will come to an end once all the offers have been made. My understanding is that most people who are living outside have filled out housing applications and want to move inside.
  4. This Thursday Council will consider changing the bylaws back to 7pm to 7am sheltering, once everyone has been offered indoor space. We will also consider keeping Central Park and Centennial Square as no camping zones. I support all of these proposals.
  5. For those who having been living in the parks during a global health pandemic when everyone has been told to stay at home, I know this has been difficult. It is not safe for people to be living in parks, as parks are not homes. There is no sense of security for those of you who live in tents with no privacy, no four walls, no door to lock, nowhere to truly rest. We hear you and that is why we’re working hard with the Province to meet the goal we set to get you inside on the pathway to permanent housing.  
  6. For those of you who have been living near parks where people have been sheltering since the outbreak of the pandemic, and for those who love our parks and especially Beacon Hill, I also know this has also been very difficult for you. It’s sometimes scary for some, disturbing for others, heartbreaking for others, and angering and frustrating to some. We hear you, and that’s why we’re working hard as noted above.
  7. Some of you have said it was a mistake to allow 24/7 sheltering during the pandemic. As noted, it has been difficult for everyone but I disagree that it’s a mistake. A global pandemic was declared. Shelters closed. Couch-surfing ended. Bubbles got small. And people had nowhere to go. Dr. Henry advised on June 8th 2020 in a memo to all mayors in British Columbia that encampments should not be cleared unless there were safe indoor spaces for people to go. At this time, she has not rescinded her advice or sent any further memos.
  8. Some of you are frustrated that bylaws aren’t being followed or enforced. Our bylaw staff are in parks daily working with the people who are living there to achieve compliance. There are 200 people living in nine parks. The City’s bylaw officers are doing their very best balancing the needs of people forced to live outside in the middle of a global health pandemic and keeping parks available for everyone to use. Their work is very difficult.
  9. Some of you don’t feel safe in parks and wonder what we are doing about crime in parks. VicPD officers are available to respond to calls as needed just as in other parts of the City. Council has also approved additional funding for police to accompany bylaw.
  10. Some of you have said that you feel completely safe using Beacon Hill Park and other parks and don’t want people who are poor and living outside to be seen as dangerous or criminals when they are really just vulnerable.
  11. Some of you have said it’s impossible to end homelessness, and there are too many people with too many challenges out there. I’ve felt this way too. There have been decades of neglect and under investment in housing and supports, treatment and recovery and care for those who need it. But with the federal and provincial governments prepared to once again invest heavily in housing and treatment, we will turn a corner on this important issue in the next couple of years.
  12. Some of you have addressed the need for a civilian response in parks rather than bylaw and police. The City is working with our Community Wellness Task Force as well as Island Health and VicPD to create such a response team with clear roles and responsibilities for different parties.
  13. Some of you have sent creative ideas for indoor sheltering from purchasing cruise ships to sleeping pods. Thanks as always for your suggestions. Right now we are ruthlessly focused on solutions that can be achieved by March 31st and at the same time c planning, processing and constructing permanent housing. There are hundreds of units on the way.  

A Dose of Inspiration
I find it helpful through these challenging times to maintain a connection to the world-that-is-bigger-than-each-of-us. Rachel Naomi Renen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal is a reminder of wholeness and connection. She writes, “We are all here for a single purpose: to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better. We can do this through losing as well as by winning, by having and by not having, by succeeding or by failing. All we need to do is to show up openhearted for class.”

Here’s to openheartedness.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

Black History Month: White Privilege and Racism in Victoria

Councillor Sharmake Dubow. Photo credit: Quinton Gordon

For those looking for an update on Clover Point, I’ll provide that next Sunday after Council has reviewed new options from staff on Thursday. For those looking for an update on indoor sheltering and the March 31st move in goal, I will also update on that when I have additional information to share. Please see past posts for details.

I remember the first time I was aware of having a racist thought. It was the summer after grade 10. I had been selected to represent my city, London, Ontario, at a global youth leadership conference in Pittsburgh. I was in the cafeteria line up with kids from all over the world. There was a Black kid in front of me. And I felt superior.

I caught myself immediately; I felt both horrified and ashamed for having that thought and wondered where it came from. I didn’t grow up in a particularly racist family and while London was pretty white, at least a couple of schools I’d attended had been relatively diverse. I hadn’t yet heard the term “systemic racism”. But by the time I was 15, I’d already internalized both my status in a systemically racist society, and white supremacy – one of the of the basic organizing principles of western culture. Those with white skin carry privilege.

Since that shocking moment in the cafeteria line up, I’ve been working to unlearn racism and racial bias. I’ve been listening hard to the voices and experiences of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour. And whenever possible, particularly in my role as mayor – which carries with it a great deal of privilege – I’ve been working to facilitate and to take action against racism in all its forms. But there is still so much to learn.

At our evening Council meeting on February 11th, a few speakers came to talk with Council about Councillor Dubow’s trip over the holidays and Council’s response to it. The most poignant remarks were from Gina Mowatt. Please take the time to listen to her address on the Council meeting archive. She begins speaking at 16:10. She noted that the statement I made in response to Councillor Dubow’s travel, “has incited violence against Councilor Dubow … the statement has been celebrated and shared widely through white supremacist websites and social media groups online.”

Ms. Mowatt went on to say that if City Council understands and and believes that racism and white supremacy are real and tangible for Black people as well as Indigenous people and people of colour as we claim we do, that we should deal with the racist backlash that Councilor Dubow is facing on social media. She noted that Councillor Dubow is now in an unsafe position as is the Black community in Victoria due to the surge of anti-Black racism that has come as a result of my statement and a disregard for the fact that Councillor Dubow will be targeted differently than a white politician for anything he does. She reminded us that this is white supremacy.

She concluded by noting that “Council facilitates the ignition of white supremacy and hate while hiding behind a thin curtain of progressive politics and diversity rhetoric.” She called for Council to make statement against anti-Black racism and to denounce the call for Councillor Dubow’s resignation.

What really struck me, once again, while listening to Ms. Mowatt’s candid and thoughtful remarks, is the great responsibility that privilege carries. Because I am white and because I have not experienced racism, as I was preparing my statement with respect to Councillor Dubow’s travel, I didn’t think about how it might be used by others to incite hate. I didn’t think about how it might add to a climate of unsafety for Councillor Dubow and other Black people in the Victoria community. Especially because I’m in a position of power as mayor, I should have thought about the impact my statement could have in perpetuating racism and white supremacy. I got publicly called out for this. And for that, I am both grateful and humbled.

I am not on social media so have not been privy to the racist attacks that Councillor Dubow has been subjected to. He has since shared some of this with me. He notes that some of the most racist comments – heartbreaking and unmentionable here – are from people in Victoria. He told me that the posts of responses to his travel have been shared 80 times as much as the news coverage of white politicians who traveled. He told me that racism is exhausting.

This is my statement: Racism against Councillor Dubow is unacceptable, it is hurtful to him and to many in our community and it must stop. Racism in any form is intolerable and we must call it out every time we witness it. This is a particularly important thing to do for those of use who benefit from our positions of privilege in a racist system. Calling out racism isn’t enough; we must work to dismantle racial hierarchies and the power structures that keep them in place. To do this we must foreground the voices and experiences of people who have been held back by, hurt by and excluded by systemic racism. And we must take the actions they say need to be taken to create a more just and more equitable society.

To undertake some of this work in Victoria, Councillor Dubow and I are leading the Welcoming City Task Force. Our welcoming city work is inspired by Welcoming America, which “leads a movement of inclusive communities, becoming more prosperous by making everyone feel like they belong.” The mandate of Victoria’s Welcoming City Task Force is to develop a Welcoming City Strategy that will help to make Victoria more welcoming and also less racist as our city grows and changes and as we continue to welcome newcomers from around the world. The majority of the task force members are Indigenous, Black and people of colour and it is their voices and experiences that will shape the actions in the Welcoming City Strategy.

For Victorians wondering how you can participate in making our city more welcoming, the Welcoming City Task Force will be beginning engagement soon. But in the meantime, there are a few things those of us in positions of privilege can do immediately. We can watch, read, and listen during Black History Month to learn more about the Black history of Victoria, British Columbia and Canada. Here’s one terrific webinar put on by the BC Black History Awareness Society as a good starting point. You can also read Councillor Dubow’s Times Colonist piece on Black History Month here.

We can also ask ourselves, what can I do to make Victoria more welcoming and less racist, in my work place, my school, my classroom, my church? What can I do in my daily life to unlearn racism and privilege? How do I respond when I’m called racist or when my privilege is pointed out and challenged? And most importantly, to move forward and create a more welcoming, less racist city, we can continually foreground the voices and experiences of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour.

Clover Point, “The Majority of People Feel the Same Way As I Do,” and The Creatures We Cherish – Mayor’s Sunday Email – February 14 2021

These three photos show differences in accessing the waterfront. The top two photos show current conditions at Clover Point which prioritize people using vehicles, making the space inaccessible and unsafe for people to walk there. The photo on the bottom shows the new balustrade, sidewalk, separated bike lanes, and new angle parking for people to enjoy some of the most spectacular views in the country. These improvements make it safe and accessible for all modes. Photo credit: Ray Straatsma.

Hello everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. In order to ensure you all get answers from me in a timely way, I’m writing you all at once. I want you to know that I’ve read each of your 483 emails! They were mostly about Clover Point so I’m going to focus on that this week. For those of you who signed up for sheltering in parks updates, there is nothing new to report except that we are still on target to get everyone in inside by March 31st and there are emergency indoor shelters open during this cold weather snap.

I’ll start with background information on the Clover Point proposal and address your concerns. Then I’ll look at Clover Point again from a couple of different perspectives, one related to democracy and one related our ecological responsibility. I’d be honoured if you took the time to read the whole post.

I like writing these posts as it’s a way to respond to your thoughts, questions, concerns and ideas and to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible. If you’d like to receive an email each week you can sign up here (top right hand side.)

Clover Point
So many of you have taken the time to share some of your favourite memories at Clover Point. Thanks for doing so! You’ve said that it’s a place of refuge. A good place for car picnics on windy days. A place to share a cup of tea with an elderly parent. To watch the birds. To take in the magnificent view of the strait and mountains, wonderful for sunrises and sunsets, as well as storm watching. You like to eat your lunch there on your break or to get ice cream at the Beacon Hill Drive in and enjoy it in your car. And so many other stories.

One of my Clover Point car moments was years ago when I was going through a break up. You know that point in a break up where it still seems like a good idea to try and see each other even though the break up is definitely happening?! We got burgers from Big Wheel Burger and drove down to Clover Point. I think we were both grateful for the beautiful views while eating our burgers in the car, as it was much easier to look out at the ocean than it was to look at each other. A real solace.

Many of your emails seek to understand why this proposal and why now, what about consultation, and how will we consider accessibility concerns? There are also many of you who have sent passionate emails saying it’s a really good idea to change Clover Point in the way that we’re proposing. I’m not going to take a “side” here, because I think it’s always more complex than sides.  I’m going to talk about the circumstances that the led to this proposal, and about engagement, consultation and accessibility. Then I’ll talk about next steps and where we go from here.

Last year, staff came to Council with a recommendation to replace the old Dallas Road balustrade near Ogden Point as part of the civil and engineering works that were happening in that area because of the sewage project. It was more cost effective to do it at the same time as the sewage project than as a stand alone project in the coming years.

The balustrade replacement project went very well in two ways. First, it was very recently completed – the final touches were installed just a few weeks ago – and it came in under budget. This left approximately $250,000 that could be used to make additional improvements to the waterfront. And second, everyone loved it! We got such positive feedback about the yellow deck chairs, the path for people walking as well as riding bikes, the additional angled parking spots for up close viewing of the ocean.

So with this remaining budget for public realm improvements, and the sewage project still underway at Clover Point, staff turned their minds to a similar approach as they had at the balustrade: what could we do now to improve the public realm in a cost effective way.

To get ideas for Clover Point, staff referred back to previous public consultation on ideas for Clover Point including this 2017 Fairfield Gonzales neighbourhood report that was produced by the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association Land Use Committee. Please take the time to read it; the residents put a lot of work and effort in.

Staff consulted this document as well as the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan and the Parks and Open Spaces Master Plan both of which had extensive public engagement. Policy direction in all of these documents points to enhancing pedestrian access to the waterfront.

Drawing on all this information and wanting to capitalize on the opportunity as they had up the road near Ogden Point, staff proposed the new interim treatment at Clover Point which has generated all the buzz this week! The proposed design is exactly that, an interim proposal the can be implemented in time for this summer while we have a longer conversation about the future of Clover Point.

One of the key things that came up in many of your emails this week is concerns that what staff had proposed to keep Clover Point accessible to those with mobility challenges did not go far enough. On Thursday, Council directed staff to report back on February 25th with some different options to address these concerns. Thanks to those of you who have proposed design ideas. I’ve forwarded them to staff.

A few other concerns that some of you raised is how windy it is and not a good place for picnics. Also the kite surfing crowd – a sport which I learned a lot about this week, thank you! – said we need to keep the grassy space open for kites to land. The good thing about an interim treatment and the installation of chairs and picnic tables, etc. is that they are easily moveable as necessary. There was also some concern about food trucks and lots of questions about garbage flying around etc. The food trucks are just an idea. People seem to have enjoyed the food carts that were along Dallas Road last summer, so perhaps maybe they’d also enjoy them at Clover Point from time to time.

The whole point of the proposed project is to try something a bit different down there that will make the place feel more like a park than like a space for cars to park, while keeping it accessible to as many people as possible. Many of you in business will know the Six Sigma PDSA methodology: Plan, Do, Study, Act. It’s an iterative, four-stage problem solving model used for improving a process or carrying out change. And it’s also so that we can learn by doing, not by talking or theorizing or studying. This is the approach we propose to take over the next few years at Clover Point. And all your feedback has been and will be most helpful in this regard!

I’ll post a further update on my blog after the Council meeting on February 25th.

“The majority of people feel the same way I do.”
This is a phrase I’ve heard uttered often this week about Clover Point. And every time Council proposes to take a bold action that changes the status quo, whether it’s bike lanes, reconciliation efforts, sheltering during the pandemic, or this week, Clover Point, I hear the same message, “The majority of people feel the same way I do.”

Those of you who have written to me this week to tell me this have shared a screenshot of the number of “likes” on your Facebook page, or you site the majority of comments in a Facebook Group that you belong to, or point to the number of people in an online media poll where the majority of voluntary respondents have supported your point of view, or note that all the callers on one radio show are saying the same thing.

This approach to difficult issues – asserting that a majority of people hold a particular view based on social media, an online poll, or talk radio – threatens democracy, undermines civic dialogue, and inhibits our collective ability to tackle complex problems.

“The majority of people agree with my point of view,” is a product of the echo chamber of social media where algorithms predict our likes and interests and feed us content that reinforces what we already believe. This documentary, The Social Dilemma, lays this all out really well. In social media land, differences of opinion are trounced on and facts become irrelevant. The most notorious case in point: there are millions of Americans who believe that Donald Trump won the election.

As noted above, we’ve received a number of emails from seniors and people with disabilities this week requesting that Clover Point be left as is so that they can continue to enjoy it. Here are some other emails we’ve also received from seniors and people with disabilities.

From a senior

“Dear  Mayor and Council,

“As an 88 year old resident of Victoria, I want to urge you to keep Clover Point car-free. Clover Point is a unique and much visited part of Victoria. It is  very important to keep it car free  in order to maintain its  natural, unspoiled beauty.  I can enjoy it when I get a ride to that area, and then can walk out to the end of Clover Point, enjoying the  natural sea shore, WITHOUT VEHICLES as part of the view and landscape. When I can no  longer walk I shall sit  in a car parked along the road … I DO NOT NEED TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE TO THE END OF THE POINT TO APPRECIATE THE SPLENDID VIEW!!!

“By the way I am an active citizen who VOTES every chance I get!!”

And from a person with a disability:

“Fully support the proposed changes — I have a toddler and avoid Clover Point. We walk down to Dallas Road and there’s nothing for us at Clover Point. 

“The cars backing in and out, the exhaust, and the fact that the green space is enclosed on all sides by a parking lot makes it unsafe and frankly, super boring. Which is a shame because it’s such an incredible and unique spot!

“I love the city’s new vision and I’d love to see Clover Point made into an actual park.

“I have a disability which among other things means that I can’t drive. Make Clover Point a safe, accessible place and everyone wins. There are tons of other places to park in a storm and look out the window.

“Maybe some wind breaks in the new design would be neat.

“Also, shout out to Councilor Young who first proposed this back in 1994! Wow!”

And if these two emails aren’t evidence of a healthy diversity of opinion even within the most affected groups, the survey conducted this week by the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association is a bit more evidence that there is no strong majority opinion on the topic of Clover Point, one way or another. This survey was open from Tuesday morning to Wednesday afternoon and was completed by 992 people. It is voluntary and non-representative The results show that:

48.0% support the proposal (475 votes)
9.2% somewhat support the proposal (91 votes)
42.8% oppose the proposal (423 votes)

There is this great movement afoot in the United States called, “Make America Purple,” where Democrats and Republicans with strongly held views sit down, one-on-one, and have a conversation. What they’re finding is that they have more in common than what sets them apart. I’ve done this too. Some of you may remember a few years ago when Paul Seal who ran a Facebook page called Victoria BC Today was waging what felt like pretty personal attacks on me online. I invited him to my house for tea. And he came! We found that there were quite a few things we could agree on and also that it felt good for both of us to have a face to face conversation.

So a request from your mayor who loves each of you and this city very much: the next time you’re thinking that the majority of people see something the way you do, or when you’re feeling really strongly about an issue, reach out to someone who thinks differently about it, and invite them to have a conversation. I can guarantee that if we all do this, it will make our city better, and also, it will feel good because being connected with each feels better other than being divided from each other.

What’s our responsibility to the creatures we love?

This is a male Bufflehead duck, a species of duck that is frequently seen at Clover Point. Photo credit: Kim DiPasquale

A final consideration that has been niggling at me all week in the discussion of Clover Point is that few people have talked about the ecological health of the area.

Clover Point is part of the Victoria Habour Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Here is a great site, maintained by local bird watchers that lets us know the birds that have been seen recently. This past Friday alone, there were 19 separate species spotted.

Here is what someone who likes to drive down to the point shared this week with respect to nature: “I have witnessed, many a time, Orcas swimming so close you could almost touch them, Humpback’s slapping their large flukes just feet away. I have witnessed Eagles eating their catch on the rocks below as well as many an Otter frolicking on the rocks as well. I hear the sea lions barking and watch them swim by and occasionally jump out of the water.” 

In 1956, according to Beacon Hill Park history, which cites a Daily Colonist article, “A circular drive with an oiled surface will be completed around the point.” Since 1956 storm water runoff from vehicles has been going directly into the habitat of the wildlife we all cherish. This article in the International Journal of Urban Sciences outlines the negative impact of heavy metals released from from car exhaust, worn tires and engine parts, as part of storm water runoff. In addition to heavy metals, the most common storm water pollutants from vehicles include oils and grease, and sediments from construction vehicles.

For years we pumped raw sewage right into the ocean off of Clover Point. As of December 2020, we are no longer doing so; we now have a sewage treatment system in place that aligns with the values of our community in the 21st century. I know that staff and Council will come to a solution for Clover Point that addresses the needs of people with disabilities and senior’s with accessibility challenges to have access to the water.

But for the rest of us, it’s time for the days of driving right up to the ocean to come to an end. I know this will feel like a loss to many people. But by letting go of this practice and by thinking of something much, much bigger than ourselves, there is also a lot to be gained.

Almost post script: On Saturday morning, after shoveling the sidewalk and checking in with the people running the emergency cold weather sheltering sites, I got back into bed with a cup of coffee. I was staring out the window, reflecting on how little was said about protecting nature at Clover Point this past week, and this Alice Walker poem popped into my head from her book called, Her Blue Body Everything We Know. This is my Sunday offering to you all.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

We Have A Beautiful Mother

We have a beautiful
mother
Her hills
are buffaloes
Her buffaloes
hills.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her oceans
are wombs
Her wombs
oceans.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her teeth
the white stones
at the edge
of the water
the summer
grasses
her plentiful
hair.

We have a beautiful
mother
Her green lap
immense
Her brown embrace
eternal
Her blue body
everything
we know.

52 Days, March 31st Goal, Your concerns, Ideas and Suggestions, and To The People Who Think I am Doing A Terrible Job – Mayor’s Sunday Email – February 7 2021

The Community First! Village in Austin Texas that provides housing with supports to people coming out of homelessness. More below. Thanks to the resident who sent this. Photo credit: Leonid Furmansky.

Hello Everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to write to me this week to share your thoughts, questions and concerns with respect to outdoor sheltering in parks and related issues. I’ve read all of your emails and I’m responding to them all together so that you all get an answer in a timely way. Some of you have requested a personal response. This is my personal response. It’s heartfelt, hopefully informative and assures you that I’ve read your emails and am hearing your concerns. If you have a specific bylaw related concern, please report it here.

This email will be short compared to my past Sunday emails as I’ve received fewer emails this week and a more narrow series of concerns. For those who want more general information about sheltering in parks and what the City and Province are doing to address it, please read last week’s email here. There is an outline of the steps we are taking with the Province and the plans that we are putting in place. If you’d like to receive regular updates you can sign up here (top right hand corner).

But in the meantime, some of you have other questions. With respect to enforcing the current sheltering bylaws, our bylaw staff are in parks daily working with the people who are living there to achieve compliance and to give people as much information as they can about what is expected. Some of you have expressed a lot of frustration about bylaws not being followed. There are 200 people living in nine parks. The City’s bylaw officers are doing their very best balancing the needs of people forced to live outside in the middle of a global health pandemic with bylaw enforcement and keeping parks available for everyone to use. Their work is very difficult.

A couple of people have written about the increasing number of people at Irving Park and that some people have begun to camp too close to the playground, where the kids from the nearby daycare usually play. We’ve made bylaw staff aware of this and they will (or have already) attend Irving Park to help ensure that the space is available for both the people who are living outside and for the kids to play. Thanks to the person who wrote and pointed out that this has been working pretty well until recently.

Some of you have written this week thanking me for work that myself and Council have been doing to address the current situation of outdoor sheltering and recognizing what a difficult situation this is for everyone. Others have written saying that we are doing a terrible job, or worse.

Some of you have said in response to my email last Sunday that you don’t care what is happening across the country or the province, you only care about what is happening in Victoria. The reason I shared all the information from elsewhere is to show that Victoria is not any different from other major cities across the country or the province.

In this Times Colonist piece, “Complex-care housing could help solve the B.C. dilemma,” that I co-authored with Brian Frenkel, a Vanderhoof City Councillor and the president of UBCM as well as Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran with whom I chair the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus, we lay out very clearly that, “A deadly drug supply and the effects of untreated addictions and severe mental illness are visible daily on our streets, doorways, in our parks, and — in more remote and rural areas — in forests and secluded places where people are a long way from help.”

It’s not just Toronto, Montreal, London, and other places I cited last week. There are people sleeping outside 24/7 in View Royal, Saanich, Sooke, Sidney. It’s just that they are more hidden than in Victoria which is a tiny municipality with no forested areas, only city parks. These aren’t excuses or deflections as some of you have suggested, these are just facts. And they are really difficult ones for all of us to face. It should shock us that there are people living outside in the middle of a global health pandemic in a country as prosperous as Canada.

Every day myself, members of Council, city staff, BC Housing, Island Health, the provincial housing ministry, and all the amazing front line workers in the parks are working towards the March 31st goal of offering everyone currently living in parks an indoor space.

Many of you have asked this week, will we really do this by March 31st and what happens after this. For awhile I felt like I was the only one who believed that we would actually be able to offer everyone an indoor space by the end of March. But over the past few weeks, Minster Eby, BC’s Housing Minister has unequivocally and repeatedly stated that he also believes this is possible. Please take the time to read this fantastic interview with him in today’s Times Colonist. I know that his staff as well as BC Housing staff are working very hard to secure spaces for everyone. I know this is an expensive prospect. But it’s not nearly as expensive as the financial, social, health and environmental costs of people living outside. And housing is also a human right.

People who choose not to go into an indoor location will need to take down their tents every morning as per the City’s parks bylaw, and those currently sleeping in RVs or vans in Beacon Hill Park will also have to move. Beacon Hill Park is not a campground; it is an emergency sheltering location.

What we’re finding, is that contrary to myths and popular belief, most people living outside do want to move inside into safe secure housing with a door they can lock behind them. We also know that some people will want and need support and especially peer support from people who have themselves recovered from homelessness. The Greater Coalition to End Homelessness has a fantastic peer housing support program that is funded by BC Housing and will be an important element of a successful transition for people moving in.

A key principle of Housing First, which is a proven approach to housing, is that choice is really important to successful housing outcomes and good for people’s sense of dignity. If you are a woman who has experienced sexual abuse in a congregate housing setting, you may prefer a transitional tiny home or a motel room. If you are some who knows that you live better in community than isolated in a room of your own, you may choose a congregate setting like the arena or the My Place shelter.

In May, in the early days of the pandemic emergency when people were rushed off the Pandora boulevard and Topaz Park into motel rooms and the arena, there was little assessment and little ability for people to share their needs or to have much choice in their housing. Now, since Council set the March 31st goal in November, outreach workers, medical providers, and BC Housing staff have more of a sense of who is living outside and what they need for a successful transition indoors.

Everyone will fill out a housing application (if you are living outside and haven’t filled out an application you can find supportive housing applications here and affordable housing applications here) and everyone will be offered an indoor space through the Coordinated Assessment and Access process that is run by BC Housing, Island Health and the Capital Regional District.

I know this seems like a lot of detail about the process, but some of you have asked very detailed questions about how all of this will work, and I want to give comprehensive answers.

Your Suggestions
As always, I’m grateful when people take the time to send ideas and suggestions. Someone wrote:

“A few years ago I saw a clip from a Seattle news program where a small company (under 10 people) ‘adopted’ (for lack of a better word) a needy family. Problematic ‘tent cities’ fill our TV screens daily with numerous problems; children going hungry – so sad! It could be any of us!

“What if: 1 company contributed and cared for 1 individual (or family) for a year period?! the person (or family) would not know where their assistance is coming from. This ‘gift-support’ would be in addition to whatever they receive from the government and without tax penalty. Everyone needs a little additional help sometime.”

A similar idea is getting life right here in Victoria, not with companies (although I know there have been many corporate donors to the Transitional Tiny Home Community), but with individuals and churches. There a a group of people organizing to think creatively about how a person or group of people could top up a BC Housing rent supplement so that someone could afford to rent an apartment with a rent supplement plus a top up. I find it inspiring that residents are coming together to self-organize in this way.

Someone else wrote and suggested:

“My idea would be to build a large compound in the middle of somewhere far from cities and people who want to get off drugs and get clean could sign up (voluntarily, of course) and live in the compound for a minimum of 2 years. During this period they would learn a trade. They would also farm most of their food (supplies would be brought in monthly to bolster food, clothing, medicine etc), they would learn trades like sewing, mechanics, farming, woodworking, marketing. The could sell their products to allow the compound to thrive. They would also earn a daily wage which would go into a bank account in their name.

“Once the 2 years is up they could then leave and they would be assisted in obtaining employment in their trade. They would be given an apartment with the first 6 months of rent paid, and of course they would have their 2 years of wages in the bank account that they earned while in the compound. I think this would actually be a good solution to a very difficult problem. There are a few things though that would make this idea work: The compound has to be far away from any city. Too far to walk or drive. The compound must be voluntary for a minimum of 2 years. There will be a female side and a male side to avoid any situations where mingling could create a problem. Rules would need to be enforced. Trades are mandatory and part of the rehab.”

A program very similar to what is described here exists in View Royal called New Roads and run by Our Place Society. There are spaces available right now for men who are ready to voluntarily enter a 14 month to two year program to recover from an addiction. While the program doesn’t have all the elements that this thoughtful resident described, it does have many of them.

Finally, someone sent this inspiring article, Beautiful Micro-House Built in Sustainable Community For Formerly Homeless Folks. The Transitional Tiny Home Community proposed in Victoria is a version of this concept. It is not permanent housing but rather a transitional resting place until permanent housing is available. And like the article, which outlines a community effort in Austin Texas, the Transitional Tiny Home Community is an effort of the private and non-profit sectors as well as citizens and governments coming together to take a creative approach to temporary housing.

To Those Who Think I’m Doing A Terrible Job
Thank you especially for taking the time to write and share your thoughts. I hear the frustration and anger in some of your emails. Being balanced and generous in my responses to your frustration and anger, doesn’t make my emails “fluff”, what I’m trying to do is to be respectful and to connect, human to human.

The sarcasm, and sometimes mean spiritedness as you make your points, and repeated rants against the bike lanes as a tag on to everything else you think I’ve done wrong are a bit hard to take. But maybe you’re feeling really stressed by the pandemic, or going through a hard time of your own. I want you to know that I hear you. I don’t simply roll my eyes and delete your emails. Because I believe in diversity of thought and a variety of perspectives.

What I also know to be true is that to solve the tough problems facing us – homelessness, a pending economic depression and the survival of our beloved local businesses, income inequality, racism, climate change, building a city for the 21st and 22nd century – we need to really communicate with each other.

I started a really great book yesterday called, Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities by Adam Kahane. Adam worked in post apartheid South Africa, in Guatemala, Venezuela, Israel and Palestine and other places facing challenges and division. I thought about something he wrote in the introduction as I was reading some of your emails:

“Our most common way of talking is telling: asserting the truth about the way things are and must be, not allowing that there might be other truths and possibilities. And our most common way of listening is not listening: listening only to our own talking, not to others … A complex problem can only be solved peacefully if the people who are part of the problem work together creatively to understand their situation and to improve it.”

Here’s to other truths and possibilities. And to creative solutions.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps