80 Days – There is a Plan, Community Care Tent, Parks Sheltering Concerns, Your Suggestions – Mayor’s Sunday Email – January 10 2021

A 30 person Transitional Tiny Home Community is proposed for the City-owned parking lot at 940 Caledonia Road. This is a community-driven, crowd-funded project that has so far raised almost $250,000 of the $500,000 needed to build homes for people in our community by March 31st 2021. Learn more or donate here.

Hello Everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. In order to answer all your emails in a timely way and to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible, I write back to everyone all at once every Sunday. I’ll address your specific concerns as best I can and you’ll also learn about some of the concerns that others have and what we’re doing in response.

Many of you have asked some really good questions that I’ve answered in previous Sunday emails; these emails are all on my blog. What would be great if I don’t answer your exact question here – though I’ll do my best! – is to head to my blog and search for topic you’re looking for. You can do this by using the Command and “F” key at the same time and then searching for the word or words you’re looking for information on.

I’ve been writing every Sunday since August on the topic of housing, sheltering, parks and solutions so there’s lots of information available. If you’d like to receive weekly emails from me to keep you to date, you can also sign up here.

This email is organized by heading so you can just skip to the section where I address what you’ve written to me about if you don’t want to read the whole thing. I’ll start with the next 80 days and the plan to end parks sheltering by March 31 2021. Then I’ll talk about the Community Care Tent in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park. Next I’ll respond to concerns about parks sheltering more generally. Then I’ll share and respond to some of the suggestions you’ve made. Finally, as always at the end, I’ll share what I hope is a dose of humanity and inspiration. That’s always my favourite part so I hope you can skip to that if you can’t read the whole thing.

80 Days – There is A Plan
Council has set a goal of working with the Province to offer everyone currently living in City parks a 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunity by March 31st. That is 80 days from today. When that happens, we will change the parks bylaw back to allow camping only from 7pm-7am as per a 2009 Supreme Court decision that secured the right to overnight shelter for people without homes.

On Friday morning, BC’s terrific new Housing Minister David Eby was interviewed by Gregor Craigie on CBC. He expressed his support for Victoria Council’s goal, said he thought March 31st was doable, and noted that we are all working together to make this happen. Please take the time to listen to his interview here.

We are still in a global health pandemic and in a provincially declared State of Emergency. We need to move quickly over the next 80 days to meet the goal, because people have been living outside for far too long already. Because we are in a State of Emergency and need to move quickly, some of the solutions will likely not have much public consultation, though we will do our best to keep the public informed.

As Minister Eby noted on CBC, there are currently approximately 191 structures in city parks. Some of them have more than one person living in them. This means that we need to create indoor sheltering solutions – and not just a mat on a floor – for over 200 people in the next 80 days. These spaces will come through rent supplements, tiny homes, new 24/7 indoor transitional sheltering opportunities, motel rooms, and a new Regional Housing First building that is opening in Langford in March.

There have been a couple of emails from nearby residents of the proposed Transitional Tiny Home Community concerned about this project. You can read the full report to Council here. I can assure residents that a wide search of publicly and privately owned properties around the city and the region was undertaken, including the land the City owns at 930 Pandora. That property will go through planning and then demolition as soon as possible and before September 2022 and is not a suitable location for the Transitional Tiny Home Community. The Transitional Tiny Home Community will be run by an experienced operator. There will be a formal opportunity for public comment at a Council meeting about the Transitional Tiny Home Community before Council would authorize a Temporary Use Permit.

To those of you who are still living outside in the middle of a global health pandemic, I hear your stories and I see your needs. We’re going to continue to do the very best we can to support the Province to create indoor spaces for you, spaces that are the transition to homes and the supports you’ve said you need. BC Housing will be prioritizing people who have filled out a BC Housing application. If you haven’t filled one out, flag down an outreach worker and ask for help. If you have someone to help you fill out a form they can find it here.

Community Care Tent
This past week we’ve received a flood of emails from people who live on or near Avalon Street concerned about the proposal to install a Community Care Tent at Avalon and Douglas Street for the next 80 days. Thanks for writing and sharing your concerns. Some of you have asked why we can’t set up the tent on the gravel field in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park.

The Beacon Hill Trust dating back to 1882 governs the use of the park. People who are living without homes are also members of the public and can use Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and other city parks for sheltering as per the 2009 Supreme Court decision. However, the City – or anyone else – can’t organize encampments or services in the park as this would be seen to violate the Trust. Believe me, I’m as exasperated by this as all of you are, as the gravel field does seem like the easiest solution. But as our City Solicitor said to me when I came to him with my exasperation, we are the government; we cannot knowingly violate a law.

I’m glad I got your emails because when we discuss this at Council next week I can ask the questions that you’ve asked about access, parking, other routes for residents, safety of people crossing Douglas, hours of operation, COVID safety plans for the tent and so on. I think all of these questions are really good and need answers.

What I find harder to take are the emails telling me how ashamed of myself I should be for considering putting the Community Care Tent on Avalon Street. We are in a State of Emergency. There are seniors like Al (see his video below), living outside in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park. Yes there has been inadequate consultation. No Avalon Street is not the perfect location for a Community Care Tent. But surely we can all find it somewhere inside ourselves to hold it together for the next 80 days in a really rainy Victoria winter to accept a space where people can come in out of the rain to dry off and warm up.

Parks Sheltering and Other Concerns
We have received a number of emails this week about Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and bylaw non-compliance. Our hardworking bylaw staff have been focused over the past weeks on Central Park, first to work to achieve compliance with the new bylaws that are meant to limit the number of people camping in each park, and more recently helping people to relocate in the wake of the flood.

Bylaw staff will be attending in all city parks this week and beyond working with people to come into compliance with the bylaws. They will also be helping to ensure that people have housing applications filled out so BC Housing can understand their needs and what kind of indoor shelter would be suitable.

Central Park has been closed entirely for remediation. Staff have been in contact with the North Park Neighbourhood Association to get their input into the remediation plans. Council will need to consider whether Central Park is an appropriate location for sheltering at all given the flooding potential; we will need to make this decision very soon given the number of rainy winter months still ahead.

Some of you have expressed concern that as part of Central Park remediation the City might somehow sneak back in plans for Crystal Pool at that location. I can say firmly that the redevelopment of Crystal Pool has been put on a back burner at this point and it is not in Council’s 2021 work plan. The City took advantage of the closure of recreation centres earlier in the pandemic and has done some much-needed repairs to the existing facility. It will re-open soon.

I’ve also heard concerns from people who use the tennis court at Oaklands Park and the playground in Vic West park that there are people camped too close to these facilities. Bylaw staff are in regular contact with people sheltering working to find a way forward and achieve compliance.

What your emails reveal – and this has been a theme throughout the pandemic – is that parks are for recreation not for living in. People need housing so that they don’t have to live in parks, so that parks can be used for recreation. It sounds so logical and simple really, but I can assure you from work on this issue daily, that it’s not an easy one to resolve.

I’ve received a few emails this week from people who earn a good living, work hard, and still can’t afford to rent or buy a home in Victoria. This is a real concern for myself and Council. That’s why in addition to all the work we’ve been doing to help end parks sheltering, our staff have been working hard to implement the Victoria Housing Strategy .

Recently we have undertaken the following initiatives:

Something I’m really excited about for 2021 is the Missing Middle housing work we are doing. A few of you inquired about that this week. Missing Middle housing is the gap between apartments or condos and single family homes. As we all know, Victoria is growing. Housing in our community must meet the needs of everyone including young people who want to work here, families who want to stay, and grandparents who want to be close to grandkids. We know from census data that Victoria continues to lose people as they enter their 30s, likely as a result of the lack of housing options that fit their incomes and ability to grow as a family.  

Taking bold steps towards Missing Middle Housing means we’ll have more townhouses, row houses, houseplexes and other forms of what are called “ground oriented units” – homes where people can access the street directly from their front door – in our single family neighbourhoods. A Times Colonist article last week, Greater Victoria’s real estate inventory hits 25-year low, pushing prices up lays out the dire situation really clearly. If we want to make Victoria a place where families can afford to live and to grow, we need to support and incentivize the building of many more family homes in the tiny 20 square kilometre piece of land that the city occupies.

Your Suggestions
Many this week have suggested organized camping in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park on the gravel lot, or opening the Cameron Bandshell. As noted above, the Beacon Hill Trust prohibits any form of organized activity in the park. This has been challenged and upheld in court. The City is currently back in court with the Friends of Beacon Hill Park who are suing the City to prevent camping of any sort in the park. As a Trustee, the City needs to adhere to the terms of the Trust.

Someone sent me this creative idea, which I’ll share here. We are undertaking something similar as part of the Victoria Housing Strategy and also part of the Victoria Climate Leadership Plan:

“I would also like to suggest some thinking outside of the box – I am involved with a neighbourhood climate action group. What if the City of Victoria’s Green Business department (https://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/business/sustainability-programs-for-businesses.html) liaised with big landlords and created custom energy saving plans for them and their buildings that would result in savings that could be used to allow them to offer reduced cost suites in their buildings so that people’s rental supplements/social assistance would be sufficient to afford them.”

Someone else wrote:

“I would like to see the city and province ask the federal government for a tract of land in Saanich and on that land the construction of 250 small one room cottages of simple design sloped roof, inside a small fridge freezer, a 2 burner induction range, a single sink on one wall a standing shower, a small vanity sink and toilet in a bathroom walled off in a corner, the heating/cooling should be done by means of geothermal heat exchange, all units can be heated/cooled by the same system running parallel say 4 separate systems only necessitating heat pumps smaller units in parallel for maximum efficiency, on demand water heaters, LED lighting, they should be Hardie plank exterior for esthetic appeal and maximum durability the colors switched up a bit as well as some units having transom windows others without windows should also be varied in type as well as exterior lighting fixtures will vary in design  simple concrete pad, unit construction would be a cookie cutter design so production would be assembly line of sorts ,insulation should be of a closed cell type to simplify construction further as sewer, gas for on demand, water and heating is centralized cost should be low on a per unit basis.

“Housing of this type should be viewed not so much as permanent but a stepping stone toward integration into mainstream society and private housing.  These types of homes should be allocated and prioritized toward those who are already within our community and where a cost/benefit structure resides.

“At the end of the day the only real possibility of closing the gap between homelessness and or poverty is thru reintegration not alienation.”

The model laid out here in terms of temporary transitional housing is exactly what is proposed for the Transitional Tiny Home Community that I shared above. It will be small scale – 30 people not 250 – and will be a place where people can come inside and get settled and have the supports they need to find their way towards more permanent housing, and, as the citizen who wrote so eloquently put it, “reintegration not alienation.”

Al’s Art and all the Others Out There
A resident of Fairfield who lives adjacent to Meegan/Beacon Hill Park has gotten to know her un-housed neighbours. More than that, she’s been working with them on art and creative projects. She writes,

“I’ve collaborated with the Beacon Hill Park unhoused community to create MECA: Meegan Everyday Creativity Arts project. The individuals in Meegan need an opportunity to express and create. They are so excited for this project, and speak enthusiastically about it … Creative activity is a big part of how they process their big and small traumas.”

Here’s a video of Al showing her his very creative art work:

To Al and all of the others out there, I am humbled by your resilience. I want you to know that we’re working hard so that you won’t have to spend another winter in a tent, so that you’ll have the same safe, secure housing that myself and so many of the people who write to me every week enjoy. You are part of our community.

With humility and gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

P.S. Just before I was about to hit send on this email, someone sent me an email with a link to this young man, apparently currently living in a vehicle in Victoria, singing. In light of the resident’s comment above about the creativity of people living outside, I thought I’d include it here. Beautiful.

Central Park FLood Response, Indoor Sheltering Update, Consultation, and Christmas Oranges – Mayor’s Sunday Email – January 3 2021

Flood at Central Park December 22-23, photo from North Park Neighbourhood Association

Hello everyone,

Thanks for your emails over the past few weeks. As those of you who are regular correspondents will know, I took a couple weeks break from writing Sunday emails. For those of you who are receiving a Sunday email for the first time, it’s because you’ve written in the past couple of weeks with questions, concerns, or ideas about outdoor sheltering, housing, or those without homes in our community.

In order to be efficient and also to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible, I answer all your emails here. I also post this email on my blog and have been doing so weekly since late August. If you want to stay in touch to learn about the work that the Province, federal government, City and community are doing to create indoor sheltering opportunities, you can follow my blog here. If you’d like to catch up on all the information you may have missed during the fall, you can start here in August and read to here in December. Do make a cup of tea as it’s a lot of reading!

In order to make it easy to read these lengthy emails, I use headings so you can skip to what you’re interested in. Today I’ll begin with a pressing issue which many of you wrote about – the flood response in Central Park. Then I’ll give a general update on indoor sheltering and approach to consultation over the next few months. Next I’ll address your questions, concerns and suggestions. Finally, in a section called “Christmas Oranges,” I outline acts of extreme generosity and kindness I witnessed over the holiday season. If you’ve got the time I encourage you to read the whole email.

Flood response in Central Park
On the morning of December 23rd, the people living in Central Park awoke to their tents and belongings under water. Many of you wrote concerned about their fate. In some of those emails you called on the Province to reopen the Save on Foods Memorial Arena as a shelter and to take other immediate actions. I want to assure you that our colleagues at BC Housing haven’t stopped working on options over the holidays.

A group of faith leaders from a range of faiths got together and emailed this letter to City Council and provincial officials:

Dear Elected Leadership – in this Season of HOPE,

We are writing to you as a broad based diverse coalition of South Island clergy who represent thousands of concerned congregants.  

We first want to acknowledge, in gratitude, how much work and energy that British Columbia Housing, and you, our local leadership are doing throughout this pandemic to secure shelter options for the unhoused in our community.  The size and scope of the challenge feels daunting at present and we are thankful that our current Provincial government and Victoria’s local mayor and council are strong advocates for our unhoused siblings.  

We also acknowledge that what is being accomplished at present is simply not enough. 

Shelter needs to be recognized as a basic human right.  Housing is a prime determinant of health and now in the midst of a pandemic and extreme weather conditions we are in a crisis.  Those who try to serve the homeless are exhausted dealing with battered tents, floods, snow and ice. 

On behalf  of  our congregations of Victoria, who are waking up to this crisis and wake up at night during these extreme weather conditions, and care about those  who have no homes to “isolate” from  Covid-19, this winter,  we ask you to please do whatever is possible to provide immediate indoor shelter for those who need and want to relocate  from the parks.  

We fully recognize that in the midst of this emergency there is no time to worry about nimbyism.  We understand that the limited solutions that we currently hold have costs and discomforts.  We recognize that temporary indoor housing is not a long term solution to end homelessness.  

We ask that you make bold and immediate decisions to literally get our homeless siblings out of the mud.  We must do this before we are all held accountable for a death that occurs through exposure.  

Those currently suffering cannot afford to wait.  Please let us know how our congregations can be a part of the solution.  Shelter is essential to human life and dignity for the vulnerable who are parts of the sacred fabric of our community.  

Let us act swiftly, In peace,

Faith Leaders of Victoria BC 

Many people leapt into action to help after the flood, from City staff, BC Housing, the North Park Neighbourhood Association (more on this below), the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Emergency Weather Protocol and others. Within a few days, people were relocated to a drier area a block away at the Royal Athletic Park (RAP) parking lot. While this is better than living in a flooded park, it is not good enough in a country as prosperous as Canada in the middle of a global health pandemic. Hence the hard work needed in the next 90 days to move people indoors (more on this below).

And it’s not only BC Housing, Island Health, housing and social service providers and city officials who are going to need to work hard. It is all of us. To the faith leaders, and all the others who wrote demanding action – thank you for your care, concern and commitment. You can help by:

  • Continuing to speak of our “unhoused siblings” reminding everyone that people living without homes are our fellow humans, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters
  • Donating to the Tiny Home project
  • Offering up church parking lots or other church properties for Conestoga Huts (more on this below)
  • Sponsoring someone to move into a market rental unit by helping to close the gap between a rent supplement ($825 per month) and market rent for a bachelor or one-bedroom

Indoor Sheltering and Approach to Consultation
As hopefully everyone is aware, City Council passed a motion in November that set a date of March 31st 2021 to end 24/7 camping in parks. Since we are still in the middle of a global health pandemic and a Provincial State of Emergency where “stay at home” has been key medical advice, Council’s willingness to end 24/7 camping is contingent on everyone currently living outdoors in a park being offered a 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunity.

With the deadline of March 31st set, BC Housing and Island Health are providing a monthly update on the number of people who move indoors. The first report was December 15th for the month of November when 37 people living outside or on the brink of doing so were moved indoors with the supports and care that they needed. This is a good start.

Over the next three months, working together, we need to secure close to 200 spots for everyone still out there as the rain falls and the wind blows. Not all of these 200 spaces will be permanent housing right away. We’ll need to rely on a combination of:

  • Market rental units – 80-ish rent supplements available for those currently living in supportive housing who are ready to move into the private market, freeing up their units for people who need supports as they move indoors
  • Motel rooms – Capital City Centre will be repaired from the fire as of mid-January with approximately 30 spaces available
  • The Save on Foods Memorial Arena – the Province is in negotiations with GSL properties (which operates the arena) as well as with a potential shelter operator to open 48 shelter spaces
  • 30 Temporary Tiny Homes – this is a community effort; you can learn more and also donate here
  • An opportunity that will house about 30 youth
  • Other temporary indoor sheltering locations being explored to make up the rest

That’s a potential total of 218 spaces. Few of these are secured at this time. It’s going to take an enormous effort in the next 90 days to create them.

It’s also going to mean that in terms of consultation with the community we’ll be on the “inform” end of the International Association for Public Participation spectrum. This means we’ll be sharing information with the public as sheltering opportunities become available rather than consulting in advance. I know this is difficult for some people to hear. But for the past 10 months we’ve received thousands of emails asking us to get people out of parks; there is clearly a community consensus that living inside is better for everyone than having people living in parks.

Your questions, concerns and suggestions
I wish that you could all see my email inbox! There’s such a mix of messages in it. Some of you write on a regular basis with photos of people’s shelters asking bylaw to attend and enforce. Bylaw staff are doing their best to attend as many parks as possible on a regular basis. One person even sent photos of someone nodding off at a table at Tim Horton’s, coffee cup in hand, and asked me why that person wasn’t removed. I know how I would feel having my picture snapped by strangers on a regular basis.

Many people have also made suggestions about indoor sheltering locations – Ogden Point, Crystal Pool, the Armouries, the Old Canadian Tire on Douglas Street, Oak Bay Lodge. All of these have been explored and deemed unsuitable or unavailable for various reasons.

There are those of you who express a great deal of compassion for people who are struggling and also outline your own challenges with increased break ins and need for more policing. I will support the police budget this year as I have every year, and agree the police need additional resources; our officers are doing their very best in really difficult circumstances. I’m also very supportive of an alternative response that’s being co-created by the City and an alliance with the community through the City’s Community Wellness Task Force along with Island Health and VicPD, where a civilian-led team will respond for mental health-related calls so police don’t need to attend.

Some of you sent a link to a documentary about homelessness in Seattle requesting that I watch it. I watched parts of it. My feeling is that like so much of what’s online these days, it was provocative, polarizing and seemed to sow divisions – more “us and them” – rather than bringing people together and exploring the complexity of homelessness, drug addiction, crime, and inequality in the context of a global health pandemic.

For those of you who sent the documentary to me, worried about Victoria’s soul and the state of the city, please take the time to read this recent Monocole article where in November 2020, Victoria was named one of the top five small cities in the world to live. And, of course no city is ever perfect and we’re all working hard to address the challenges facing us.

Others of you in Fairfield are working to support people living Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and want the City to do more and act more quickly to assist in getting the Community Care Tent up and running. Staff have been working with the community on this since Council approved the grant for the care tent. Hopefully something will be up and running soon. I thank those of you who are part of the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association Support Group for the Unhoused for your hard work and your kindness.

Some of you have asked why we don’t move everyone in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park to the gravel area in the southwest corner. As I’ve noted in previous posts, the Beacon Hill Trust – which the City is currently being taken to court over by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park who want to stop all camping in the park – prevents organized activities in the park. The City organizing a campsite in the park does not fit with the terms of the Trust.

Some of you have pointed to the few people with Alberta licence plates staying in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and asked what we will do about these “Snowbird Campers”. While we can’t inhibit people’s charter right to freedom of movement, BC Housing is prioritizing people for housing who are most vulnerable and who have been homeless for a significant time. This criteria will tend to focus on people who are from here and who are known to BC Housing and service providers.

Finally, a number of you have sent this link to Conestoga Huts and suggested that we pursue this solution.

Conestoga Hut village in Walla Walla Washington.

The website that some of you sent says that, “Conestoga Huts are not designed to keep people as warm as one would experience in a conventional style dwelling, though they are warmer and more substantial than sleeping in a recreational tent or unprotected in the elements.”

The City, Province and BC Housing need to stay laser focused for the next 90 and beyond to create indoor sheltering solutions that will lead to safe, secure, affordable housing with supports, as needed. We can’t put our energy into creating or siting these huts at this time. However, as noted above, there may be opportunities for the faith community and others in the community to create these low-cost interim solutions on private property. If you’re interested in helping please email me mayor@victoria.ca with “Conestoga Huts” in the subject line and I will connect you with a group that is forming to work on this.

Christmas Oranges and Other Acts of Generosity
As those of you who receive my emails on a regular basis know, I go for long runs on Sunday mornings. It helps me to think, clear my head, and see the city. The Sunday before Christmas on my run through Beacon Hill Park, I saw a Fairfield couple walking through the park with a box of Christmas oranges. They were calling to people in tents, who emerged, wary. And as they did, the couple tossed Christmas oranges their way with smiles and kind words.

I slowed as I noticed this, tears in my eyes as I thanked the couple. After everything. Here were these two lovely people out for their regular Sunday morning stroll, extending such a simple kindness to their unhoused neighbours.

And this isn’t all. When the flood hit in Central Park, the North Park Neighbourhood Association and dozens of North Park residents stepped up to help. They spent hundreds of hours over their holidays building platforms for tents, procuring tents, sleeping bags and other necessities. One nearby resident even set up a laundry sign-up sheet for people in the RAP parking lot with slots every two hours and planned to spend her holiday doing people’s laundry.

While some people may be worried about Victoria’s “soul” or the direction the city is going, I’m not. And it’s not because I have my head in the sand – my eyes are wide open to all the challenges that we’re facing. But what I know for sure is that Victoria has the grace, determination and the open-hearted approach that a community needs to tackle these challenges head on.

Here’s to the hope and hard work that 2021 will require of us all.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

2021: Here’s to Hope … and Hard Work

In December staff installed the city’s first six on-street electric charging stations on Broad Street.

As we awoke on January 1 2020, COVID-19 was a world away. Our economy was one of the strongest in the country; our downtown was thriving. Few of us could have anticipated the toll the pandemic would take on our seniors, health care workers, small businesses, people without homes, governments, on each and every one of us. Most of us have been looking forward to turning the calendar and leaving 2020 behind, hoping for the best in 2021.

Hope is important. But it is not enough to dig us out of the challenging circumstances we’re in. Hope will not get our small businesses through January to March which are likely going to be the most difficult months yet. Hope is not going to create new jobs for those who lost theirs, nor the skills needed to find work in what is quickly becoming a digital and knowledge-based economy. Hope is not going to keep our greenhouse gas emissions in check to mitigate a warming planet. And hope is certainly not going to get everyone who is sheltering in parks inside by the end of March.

Hope is not enough. Hard work is required. And I know that we can work hard as a community because I witnessed it all through 2020. In the early days of the pandemic, I did a Facebook live every day. At the end of each broadcast we reported on some amazing community initiatives. We did over 50 episodes and never ran out of examples.

Early in the pandemic, members of our community created the Rapid Relief Fund and raised $6 million to support those most hard hit. Tech sector businesses quickly offered support to retail and restaurant businesses to digitize as fast as possible. Arts organizations created online content so people had access to arts and culture for their mental health and wellbeing. And many more people leapt into action in big and often small ways, supporting their neighbours, pulling together as a community.

City staff made sure that there was no interruption to essential services like garbage pickup and running water. They also worked at a rapid pace to create Build Back Victoria so local businesses could have patios and more outdoor space for retailing. And they installed electric charging stations, new zero waste bins, more space for pedestrians near village centres and a lot of other small projects to make life better.

Nurses and doctors, transit drivers, grocery store clerks, people working on the front lines in parks and shelters all worked hard, went above and beyond. And they still are.

2020 showed us that we’ve got what it takes to pull through as a community. And that’s a good thing because there’s much work to do in 2021. We need to implement the regional Reboot strategy as well as Victoria 3.0 so those hardest hit economically have an opportunity for a better future and so that our economy is more diverse and resilient to withstand future shocks.

The pandemic has also revealed some of the weaknesses in our social fabric. Another thing that’s going to take hard work and purposeful effort in 2021 is to ensure that as we recover as a community we leave no one behind.

This piece was originally published in the VicNews here.

Zero Waste Victoria: A City Where Nothing Is Wasted

Download and read Zero Waste Victoria to learn what you can do you in your own life to reduce waste, create or seize economic opportunities and be a steward of the products you buy and use.

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Discussions about garbage have taken up a lot of space in the Times Colonist Comments section in the past months. Trevor Hancock and Jon O’Riordan outlined the importance of reducing consumption and taking a zero-waste approach. CRD General Manager of Environmental Services, Larisa Hutchinson, laid out some of the very real challenges and limitations the CRD is up against in managing the region’s waste.

While we’re debating waste reduction in our daily paper, our landfill continues to fill up. Despite a 2015 regional ban on food scraps going to landfill, we’re still not adequately sorting compostable food waste from garbage. More than 25,000 tonnes of food waste from around the region still ends up there each year.

And in Victoria alone, pre-pandemic, city workers collected 25,000 single use items like coffee cups and take out containers from public trash cans, every day. And, each year, city workers dump 5.4 million single use items from our home garbage bins. I shudder to think about how this number has increased during COVID-19.

One of the mantras of pandemic recovery is that we have to “build back better.” This also holds true for how we manage our waste. That’s why Victoria Council recently adopted Zero Waste Victoria, a plan written by City staff in consultation with 57 industry and community organizations.

The goal of Zero Waste Victoria is to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill by 50% by 2040 and to put the city on a trajectory to achieve a fully circular economy by 2050.

And the plan sets a clear path to get us there – with 40 actions to tackle single use materials, construction waste, food waste, and durables like our old cellphones or mattresses.

But Zero Waste Victoria – the first municipal plan of its kind in the region – is about much more than garbage. It’s an inspiring vision for a new approach to our economy, our life as a community, and our role as stewards of the products that we buy and use.

We’re all familiar with the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” waste reduction hierarchy. Zero Waste Victoria refines this to “Avoid, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Recycle, Recover, Dispose.”

Zero Waste Victoria is a clear path to creating a city where nothing is wasted. Where reducing, reusing and repurposing materials is the norm and helps our community thrive. Where a circular economy allows innovators to succeed and businesses to flourish. Our community’s culture of sharing and repairing helps us connect with our neighbours. Our homes and places of work are constructed using salvaged and recycled materials, putting less pressure on our valuable natural resources.

In Zero Waste Victoria, no food goes to waste and any scraps are converted into energy and nutrient rich soil. The convenience of take-out doesn’t require disposable single-use products. And celebrations and gifts include meaningful experiences that support local businesses.

If this sounds aspirational, it’s because it is. But at the same time, it’s also possible, practical and fiscally prudent. Adam Corneil is the CEO of Unbuilders, a Vancouver-based business that deconstructs houses and resells the materials. He says that, “There is a huge loss of invaluable old growth lumber, building materials and history when we demolish buildings and treat these materials as waste instead of resources.”

Love Food Hate Waste Canada reports that an average Canadian household throws away $1,100 of edible food each year. That adds up to almost 2.2 million tonnes of edible food wasted each year in Canada, at a cost of more than $17 billion, while also contributing to Canada’s GHG emissions. We are literally throwing money in the garbage.

Think making these changes is impossible? It’s not. We just need to bring our habits in line with the values of our community. Until the late-1950s we put all our garbage on a barge and dumped it into the ocean. But then the garbage started to wash up on local beaches and the community noticed. So we don’t do that anymore.

Now if we all don’t change our ways, we’ll need to clear 73 more acres of forest land at Hartland to store our garbage. No one wants this, and the good news is that Zero Waste Victoria outlines a new path forward.

Tiny Homes, Questions addressed, By-Election, City Budget, And Happy Holidays – Mayor’s Sunday Email – December 13 2020

Hello everyone,

Thanks so much for your emails this past week. In keeping with my Sunday tradition, I’m writing back to all of you at once so that everyone’s emails get answered in a timely way and so that everyone has as much information as possible about sheltering, housing and other related matters. If you’d like to receive an email each week you can sign up here. If you’re interested in reading back through the Sunday emails to get caught up on the issues, you can also do so here.

Tiny Homes
Before I dive in specifically to address your concerns from this week, I did want to share an exciting project which was inspired in part by the many emails I’ve received over the past few months suggesting that we build tiny homes for people who are currently homeless. This week, Aryze Developments and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness launched the Hey Neighbour tiny home campaign. They are raising $500,000 to build 30 temporary tiny homes to get people out of the weather as soon as possible. A site has yet to be confirmed; there are a number of options being explored.

Thanks for the good idea over the past few months! And to those of you who have written this week with suggestions for how the Tiny Home village could work, thank you. I’ll pass them along.

In just the first five days of the campaign they’ve raised $122,000. Charitable tax receipts are available through the Coalition. If you’re interested in learning more or donating you can head here.

Your Questions and Concerns Addressed
I’ve received emails this week from people who live near Central Park, Meegan/Beacon Hill Park, Gonzales Park, Vic West Park and Cecilia Ravine and from people who use Beacon Hill Park on a regular basis. You all sound like you’re at a breaking point – your frustration and anger come through loud and clear. You want things fixed. You want your parks back. You want to know what we are going to do. In some cases you are fearful, in others you say you’re just tired of the hassle of people camping in our parks. You want to know why it seems that bylaws aren’t being enforced. And why there is so much garbage everywhere. You also want to know why we can’t just have everyone in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park congregate at the gravel field.

I’m afraid that I don’t have many good answers to your questions, which I’m sure is not what you want to hear. We are in the middle of global health pandemic. It’s been over 280 days since the pandemic was declared; living like this is clearly weighing on all of us. We can’t see our friends or loved ones. Life is totally upside down. And on top of that, our much loved parks are full of people who have nowhere to go. And they really do have nowhere to go.

Our bylaw, public works and parks staff are out in the parks on a daily basis cleaning up and working to bring people into compliance with the bylaws. It is not easy work and they are doing their best. There are over 170 people camping in seven or eight parks so that’s a lot of people to connect with on a daily basis.

As for Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and concentrating everyone on the gravel field: We know from past experience that large, concentrated encampments don’t work for the people living in them or for the nearby neighbours. But also, as I’ve noted in previous emails / posts, even if we wanted to organize a camping service in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park, the Beacon Hill Trust, dating back to the 1880s prevents any organized service provision in the park. Again, probably not what you want to hear.

I jogged through Meegan/Beacon Hill Park this morning and I did see quite a few tents, and some sites in disarray with some belongings strewn everywhere. And I heard one person yelling and swearing. And honestly – and you might not like this either – what I thought to myself re: the belongings strewn everywhere is, “Well, I’ve got lots of extra belongings too and thankfully I have a basement to store them in.” And when I heard the person yelling, I thought how terrible it would be to have your yelling heard by everyone like that, whereas when most of us yell, it’s in the privacy of the four walls of our homes.

I’m not saying these things to say that everyone should think like me; I am just really wanting to illustrate that there are a variety of perspectives possible about the same situation. And that listening to and understanding these various perspectives is what creates a healthy community and democracy.

I do hear your perspectives and your concerns. That’s why we’ve set a realistic deadline of March 31 2021 to work with the Province and support them in offering people indoor spaces and ending 24/7 camping in all of our parks. Each week small progress is made moving people from outside to inside. But the progress is slow. All 60 units renting at $375 per month in the new buildings in Langford and View Royal have been filled, mostly by people living in supportive housing. This means that there are now – or will soon be – vacancies available for people living in shelters or parks to move into.

BC Housing has used 15 of the 60 rent supplements they have available, which means there are still 45 subsides left. Island Health has about the same number remaining. As I’ve said in past emails, with $375 income assisance shelter rate plus $450 for a rent supplement, the total available is well below market rent in the region. We’re still working creatively to fill that funding gap.

There are still spaces available at the New Roads Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal; a few people are moving in there each week. And there’s a space for about 30 youth that will be opening soon. And there are the 30 tiny homes. We will need the Province to open some more spaces, or top up the rent supplements further, or both, to achieve the goal of moving people inside by March 31st. But please know that there is a plan and everyone I know who works in the housing and outreach field and provincial ministers and staff are working hard to make it happen. Almost all of the people living in the parks have filled out housing applications or indicated their desire to move inside.

It is clear, as I’ve said before – and with this I think you would agree – that having people living in parks isn’t good for anyone, not the people living there or the people living nearby.

A few of you have written this week with concern for the youth who are gathering under the Johnson Street Bridge. You’re concerned about their health and well-being but also about the fact that they’re gathering at all when we’ve all been told to stay home. To be honest, I don’t know whether many of these kids have homes. But in response to your emails, I will ensure that the youth homelessness team at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness connects with these kids, if they haven’t already, to see what kind of supports might be needed.

And finally, there have been some questions over the past few weeks about why there are no people camping in parks near where I live. Camping is allowed in Stevenson Park behind the Fernwood Commuity Centre. But unlike the parks where we’ve directed people for camping* it does not have a washroom. In early September, a motion was made at the Council table to prohibit camping within 100m of schools (instead of the 50m that was proposed). Even though the parents at South Park School wanted a buffer of 100m from their school, if I had voted for this 100m buffer, that would have also meant banning parking in Stevenson Park, so I voted against it, which kept Stevenson Park on the list and available for camping.

When schools closed earlier in the pandemic, I also suggested using Vic High (I live two doors down) as a shelter. This didn’t pan out because of the impending construction. I also suggested that the vacant land behind Vic High might be good for sheltering, but this too will soon be under construction. What is proposed to be built there is 154 units of affordable housing, including 20% of units that will rent at $375 per month and are for people coming out of homelessness or out of supportive housing. I look forward to welcoming my new neighbours, should Council approve the development to go forward.

By-Election Results and City Budget
I wanted to also share the by-elections results with all of you, in case you hadn’t heard. Last night Stephen Andrew was elected to fill the ninth seat on Victoria Council which has been vacant since August 2019 when Laurel Collins left to run for MP. I spoke with Stephen last night to congratulate him and to let him know I’m looking forward to working with him. It will be good to have nine of us at the table again. Being shorthanded for this long has meant extra work for the rest of us. It has also meant a few tie votes on key items, and motions fail on a tie.

In addition to helping our new colleague settle in, a key decision on the horizon is the 2021 budget. Council reviewed the draft budget in great detail in November and asked many questions of staff through motion that we’ll get a report back on in January. Now, it’s time for you to weigh in! Staff have created a really great budget survey this year – more direct and user friendly than in past years. The survey results will help to guide Council’s decision on the final budget in the new year.

All of you who have written to me – and those who read these weekly posts – obviously care deeply about our city. The budget is the most important decision Council makes each year. So a final piece of holiday homework from me is a request that you take the time to fill out the budget survey. With my thanks in advance.

Happy Holidays
This will be my last Sunday email / blog post of 2020. I’m going to take the next few Sundays and hopefully a few more days than that of quiet time and rest. Your emails will be gathered up and I’ll respond to them on Sunday January 3rd.

It’s been quite the year for all of us in Victoria, BC, Canada, and the world. As we awoke on January 1 2020, COVID-19 was a world away and few could have anticipated the toll it would take this year on our seniors, health care workers, small businesses, governments, and on each and every one of us. No one is exempt, everyone has been impacted, although not everyone has been impacted equally.

Seniors in care homes have been most vulnerable, with the majority of deaths in BC taking place in those settings. Women, youth, people of colour and Indigenous people working in low-paying service jobs that were the first to be cut have suffered economically. Our beloved small businesses were hit disproportionately hard. And of course, as oft discussed here in Victoria and in cities across the country and around the world, when everyone was told to “stay at home”, those who didn’t have homes really stood out, as they were left outside.

2021 will be year of hard work and recovery. And as we implement both the regional Reboot Strategy as well as Victoria 3.0 our job – as a whole community, province and country – is to leave no one behind.

I wish you and your loved ones a safe, socially distanced, but close-in-heart holiday season.

With love,
Lisa / Mayor Helps

*With the exception of Central Park – in that instance people showed up there and we had to adapt to the circumstances and provide washrooms and running water.

What’s in a name, Housing Update, Impacts of sheltering, your suggestions, and everything else – Mayor’s Sunday Email – December 6 2020

Thanks to the resident who sent this to me this week about what the name Victoria means. Love it! Together, Victoria, we’ve got this.

Thanks, as always, to everyone who took the time to write to me this week. I appreciate hearing your ideas, insights, complaints and frustrations. As usual, I’m responding to everyone together – on the one hand, for efficiency, but on the other, to ensure that as many people as possible have answers to the questions and concerns that people are raising.

If you’d like to stay in touch on a weekly basis, you can sign up to receive the weekly email here. If you’d like to look back over the past few months on information I’ve shared with respect to parks sheltering, housing and related matters, you can do so here. The posts are categorized by topic.

Housing Update
As noted in today’s Times Colonist article, Hotel Fire Delays Efforts to House People Without Homes in Victoria, we are not going to meet our original goal of helping 200 people move inside by the end of the year. Since August, the Community Wellness Alliance Decampment Working Group, comprised of BC Housing, Island Health, the City, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and Our Place, has been working hard to identify transitional and supportive housing units and to move people in. The Times Colonist article lays out the challenges really well and I’d love if you take the time to read it.

The good news is, that this week I spoke to both the new Housing Minister as well as to Victoria’s new MLA Grace Lore and both expressed a commitment to help meet Victoria’s goal of moving people inside by the end of March 2021. This is going to be an enormous challenge and it’s going to take all of us, working together to make it happen. And we will!

Impacts of Sheltering in Parks
A few of you have written to me this week concerned about the impacts of people sheltering in parks. One extremely thoughtful email from a North Park resident outlined challenges facing both housed and unhoused neighbourhood residents in North Park. I want to share some of the thoughtful and detailed analysis from that email here:

“According to 2016 Census statistics for North Park:

  • 57% of residents live in 5+ storey apartment buildings, 
  • 28% are considered low income, 
  • 21% are racialized, 
  • 4% are recent immigrants, 
  • 28% of children (0-17) live in poverty, and
  • 36% of seniors (65+) live in poverty.
  • North Park is ranked the most financially vulnerable of 78 neighbourhoods in the CRD

“Since May, when the City of Victoria relaxed bylaws to allow continuous sheltering in light of public health recommendations, Central Park, located in the heart of North Park, has experienced the highest concentration of outdoor sheltering in the city. North Park has been working collaboratively and compassionately for months to advocate for the needs of those sheltering while also balancing the needs of housed community members: primarily, access to Central Park – a well loved, and much needed community amenity. 

“North Park is considered a ‘park deficient’ neighbourhood with only 1.23 hectares/1000 residents compared to the City average of 3.16 hectares/1000 residents. However, the actual amount of green space is much, much lower when taking into account sheltering taking place in Central Park, as well as the fact that Royal Athletic Park – which makes up about half of North Park’s greenspace – is a fenced, regional facility.”

The writer had also copied many provincial officials and requested that the Province work with the City to house people by March 31st with the supports they need so that they are taken care of and so that the neighbourhood can have its much-needed and much loved park back.

Another North Park resident wrote thanking me for these weekly emails (you’re welcome) but frustrated by the fencing that had gone up in the park without notice, that created confusion and had the effect of moving people sheltering closer to the playground. We hear you. Bylaw staff were in the Central Park all week working with people there to relocate to other parks in the short term until we can find places for them inside. There are so many needs to balance and nothing about the situation is straightforward.

I’ve also received emails from Fairfield residents this week who live near parks where a small number of people are sheltering, likely having moved recently from Central Park. They have written noting the impact that one or two tents are having in their neighbourhood with respect to feelings of safety, not feeling like they can open the blinds etc. We hear you too.

All of these emails reveal how challenging homelessness is for everyone. A writer asked why Council cares more about people who are living without homes than tax paying residents. What I know from the volume of emails received each week concerning parks sheltering, is that if people who are currently sheltering outside move inside and out of parks, everyone benefits. That’s why we’re working so hard on the issue.

Downtown
From some of the emails I’ve received over the past few months, from a daily morning show diatribe against pretty much everything the City does, and from reports I’ve been given about some local social media echo chambers, I have to admit, I was getting pretty worried about downtown. I’ve been spending most of my time at City Hall buried in Zoom and Teams meetings, working on the future of the city and recovery from the pandemic and haven’t looked up in awhile.

But Saturday, I went downtown for pleasure. And it was a pleasure! There were people everywhere – most masked and physically distant. Our amazing local businesses were bustling. A couple of retail vacancies I’d noticed a few months ago were now full with new businesses. We’re not through this pandemic yet, and our local businesses need us more than ever. One of the best ways we can help them is to, collectively, tell a more positive, more realistic story about downtown Victoria.

This letter that was printed in the Times Colonist yesterday that I will quote in its entirety puts it better than I can:

“What Victoria are you living in?

“I read two letters in the Times Colonist. The first was an uplifting account of walking through Beacon Hill Park. As a neighbour to the park myself, I agree with the writer completely!

“My life has ‘not been ruined’ with proximity to the park. It is a fantastic space, for walking, admiring the trees and nature. The tents that we all see do not frighten me. I feel only sadness for those forced to live this way.

“The other letter was about a Victoria I don’t know. The writer claimed that ‘our parks system has been largely ruined, the downtown is dying and the whole city is a more unsafe and sinister place.’

“Wow. This is a description I don’t recognize. I work downtown and am there at 6:30 or 7 in the morning. The City is hosing down and washing the streets. It is not dirty. I walk past all the amazing and vibrant restaurants and businesses. I talk to the street people and they talk to me. It is not sinister or unsafe.

“These are our fellow human beings. That person was a little boy or girl once too. Listen to their stories and what they will tell you. When you really look and listen I believe your thoughts might change.

Anne Grimes”

Your Suggestions
Each week I get emails with creative suggestions for addressing homelessness. This week someone wrote and suggested using empty schools for this purpose. Victoria’s population of young families is growing, and any schools that are currently vacant are under redevelopment or refurbishment to get them ready to receive students. Someone else suggested building a tiny home village like this one in Seattle for women. Stay tuned; there will be more coming on this idea soon!

About Everything Else
A few weeks ago I started to share some of the projects the City is working on in addition to sheltering and housing, so that you’d know we’re working hard on lots of fronts. I’ll be brief here this week because I feel like I’ve already written a lot – which means you’ve read a lot!

In a paper called, “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” the authors point out that:

“The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system
resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions
are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer,
cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete.”

In the long-term, the impacts of climate on our economy and community well-being may dwarf those currently being felt as a result of COVID-19.

In 2018 the City adopted a Climate Leadership Plan to take action on climate change mitigation (actions to stop climate change) and adaptation (actions to adapt to a changing climate). We did this because we know that climate change will negatively impact our community’s well-being and our local economy. I know between my post last week and this week, I’m loading you up with lots of holiday reading. In addition to Victoria 3.0, I’d love if you’d take the holidays to read the Climate Leadership Plan.

The reason for my reading request, is that we just got our first Climate Progress Report. And while we’re doing well corporately and are on track with city operations to meet our 2025, 2030 and 2050 goals, as a community we’re falling behind. The City’s corporate greenhouse gas emissions are only 1% of the total. The other 99% are generated in the community through buildings, transportation and waste.

Just as Minister Dix and Dr. Henry remind us on a regular basis that beating COVID-19 takes every single one of us, so too with climate change. It would be great if you could have a read through the Climate Leadership Plan and the Progress Report and find just one action in there – large or small that you can take at home, in your workplace, school, community group etc.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

Access to Housing, Central Park, Your ideas, and Everything Else – Mayor’s Sunday Email – November 29 2020

I received a few thank you cards this week. This is one of them. More in the “About Everything Else and Gratitude” section below.

Hello everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week about sheltering in parks and related concerns. To ensure everyone gets a timely answer, I’m responding to you all at once as well as creating a blog post so others have this information as well. If you’d like to stay up to date on sheltering, housing and more, you’re welcome to sign up here.

As always, your emails cover a range of topics. I do my best to address them here in a clear and direct way. I use sub-headings, so you can skip to the section that is of interest to you.

Showers and Community Care Tent
There are those of you who wrote to me this week who think that the City should have left the care tent and the showers in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park intact. And there are others who think we waited too long to remove them. Last weekend, I wrote about this difficult situation. So as not to repeat myself, please take the time to read last week’s post here. I also shared last week that Council recognizes that people need access to showers, hygiene and other social services. That’s why we created an emergency $100,000 grant program to ensure that people’s basic needs are met until everyone moves inside by the end of March. On Thursday Council extended the grant deadline to Tuesday December 1st at 4:30pm. You can find out more here.

Access to Housing
A mother wrote this week letting me know that her son is currently living in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and asked how he can get housing. Anyone who knows someone living in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park or any other park in the city, please let them know the way to get housing is to fill out a BC Housing application. There are outreach workers in the parks every day connecting people with services but most importantly, making sure that everyone living outside has filled out a housing application so that no one is left behind. Flag down a worker. Or go to one of the weekly circles that are held at Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and Central Park.

Access to housing is facilitated by the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) process run by BC Housing, Island Health and the CRD. As vacancies become available, the CAA meets and decides who is the best fit for which housing opportunity based on the needs people living outdoors or in shelters have identified in their applications. There are many people who have been living in 24/7 shelters like My Place or Rock Bay Landing for years. As part of the “positive flow” process from parks to shelter to supportive housing to market housing, some of the people living in My Place, Rock Bay and other shelters will be moving into permanent housing, freeing up these transitional housing spaces for people who are living outside.

Some of you have asked about people coming from outside of our region to get housing, as, for example, the temperatures in Winnipeg begin to drop. While we can’t – and wouldn’t want to – limit people’s constitutional rights of freedom of movement, we have made very clear that our intentional focus between now and the end of March is to take care of people who are currently here. The CAA process is prioritizing people who have been homeless for a long period of time and/or who are vulnerable, and/or who have been living long-term in local shelters. We are also prioritizing Indigenous people who make up 35% of the population of people who are homeless in our region, even though they only make up 3-4% of the general population.

I also received a few angry emails this week from people who are simply tired of having people living in parks. Someone wrote that we should buy one way bus tickets and send people home. This is precisely the issue: in every major city across this country there are people living outside in parks who have no home. I understand everyone’s frustration and anger. I’m frustrated too. We should all be frustrated that in a country as prosperous as Canada, some people are left to live outside in the middle of a global health pandemic when we’re told over and over that the best prevention is to stay at home.

Central Park
Some of you have written this past week about the new fencing in Central Park: Why is it there? How long will the fences be up? What does this mean for people who are sheltering in the park and for others in the neighbourhood?

Staff closed the sports fields in Central Park for maintenance to get them ready for community recreation and play as part of the scheduled re-opening of the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre in 2021. Sports fields are bookable by the community and we need time to get them ready for community use. As we have all along during the pandemic, we’re working to balance the needs of those sheltering with the needs of others for outdoor recreation.

It will take several months to remediate the sports fields so they can be used for community recreation and play next spring; the fences will remain in place for that time. Sports fields are already designated as no-shelter areas by the Parks Regulation Bylaw. While 24/7 camping is in place until the end of March, Council created a new four-metre setback around playing fields to keep them clear for recreational activities and maintenance. 

New signage has recently been added to parks where sheltering is permitted, including Central Park, to remind everyone of the rules and where sheltering is allowed. Bylaw officers continue to work closely with people sheltering in parks to remind them of the areas they are allowed to shelter in, and make them aware of services available in the community.

Your Ideas
Some of you have written this week to share your ideas; thanks for doing that. One of you suggested that the Province call in the military to set up barracks in Beacon Hill Park as they did during World War One. Someone else suggested that there are probably hundreds of thousands of travel trailers and older motor homes not in use and of little value and that “this form of housing would be a huge improvement to people with just a tarp over them…imagine heated space with no wind and rain!” Someone else suggested setting up a tiny home village.

My hope is, that the City working together with the Capital Regional District (they hold the purse strings for the federal Reaching Home funding), the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, and shelter organizers we’ll be able to create temporary solutions for people over the winter that are better than living in tents. If this sounds vague, it’s because all the details are still being worked out. I’ll share more when I can. In the meantime, keep your good suggestions coming our way; mayor@victoria.ca is my direct line.

About Everything Else and Gratitude
Last week near the end of the email, I talked about the “everything else” we are working on in addition to ending 24/7 sheltering in parks and getting people inside by the end of March 2021. I thought that each week I’d feature a sample of that work. And, since we’re in the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, I thought I’d start with the work we’re doing on economic recovery and creating an economy for the future.

Victoria 3.0Recovery Reinvention Resilience – 2020-2041 is a long-term plan and vision for a sustainable, influential city that will build a strong innovation ecosystem and create a strong and resilient economy now and for the future. The priorities are to support our small businesses through recovery and also to build a more diverse and inclusive economy so that we will be able to withstand future economic shocks better than we have this one. It’s a really exciting plan and if you’d like some holiday reading to learn more about our wonderful city and its future, you can download the PDF here.

In addition to the City’s recovery plan, I’ve been working to help with regional economic recovery as part of the South Island Prosperity Partnership’s Rising Economy Task Force. We recently released Reboot: Greater Victoria’s Economic Recovery Plan 2020-2022. It’s also an exciting plan that will help people who have lost their jobs to ‘upskill” and get ready for the next economy which we’re seeing emerging through the pandemic – more digital and more knowledge based. The plan was created by over 120 people working hard together since April to help and support all those who make southern Vancouver Island such an amazing place – from farmers, to retailers, to tech workers, to Indigenous communities and more.

I’d also like to tell you about the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub. Creating this Hub is a recommendation coming out of both Victoria 3.0 and the Reboot strategy. I’ve been leading a small group working to develop a business case for the Hub so we can get federal and provincial recovery funding to get it off the ground in early 2021. The Ocean Futures Innovation Hub is a response to input from our region’s marine sector.  The Hub, will be a centre for solving tough challenges and innovation needs faced by our marine industry and will allow companies in Greater Victoria and Pacific Canada to pursue major opportunities in the global ocean and marine space. The vision for the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub is ocean industry transformation for the 22nd century – low-carbon and good jobs.

Finally, the gratitude. Some of you have been receiving and reading my Sunday emails for months now. Some of you have started more recently. I wanted to say thank you. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing. And thank you also for taking the time to say thank you. I’ve received a few cards in the mail this past week – yes real cards in the real mail! – thanking me for my work and especially for these emails. One card – signed by a whole family – said they enjoyed reading the Sunday emails each week and that they want to invite me and my family over after I’m finished being mayor to say thank you. These acts of generosity and thoughtfulness touch me deeply and keep me going, especially on the most difficult and stressful days.

With gratitude,

Lisa/Mayor Helps

Provincial support, community care tent, $100,000 grant, housing update – Mayor’s Sunday Email – November 22 2020

This mobile shower unit was opened in Edmonton in late October by a community organization, Boyle Street Community Services. More details here at CTV Edmonton.

Hello everyone,

Thanks so much to everyone who has written to me this past week. In order to answer your emails in a timely way – and to make sure that everyone has the same information – I’m writing back to all of you at once. As always, I’ll use headings so you can just skip down to the topic of interest. If you’ve got a bit of time, I’d love if you would read the whole thing. If you’d like to stay in touch and receive these emails each week, you can sign up here on my website.

Provincial Support
This week I was copied on 91 form letters addressed to the Premier and Ministers Robinson, Fleming and Simpson, Grace Lore MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill and Andrew Wilkinson. The form letter called on the Province to take control of the situation in Victoria and end 24/7 camping in parks immediately.

We haven’t stopped working with the provincial government since May when the Province rented motels, provided health supports and moved over 400 people inside in a matter of a few weeks. We meet weekly with BC Housing and Island Health and we are grateful for the ongoing spirit of partnership with which both agencies are undertaking the work of addressing homelessness, mental health and substance use.

We can’t end 24/7 camping immediately as there aren’t enough indoor spaces for everyone living outside in our parks and public spaces, especially with the recent fire at Capital City Centre, which I’ll say more about below.

We want to make Dr. Henry happy by following her advice and not displacing anyone from encampments in the middle of a global health pandemic until there are indoor options available. We want to make the Premier and many of our housed residents happy by ending 24/7 sheltering. And we want to work to provide the vulnerable people living outside with housing and the supports they need. We want them to have the safety that those of us who live in houses enjoy – a door to lock behind us each night. Council has set a goal of March 31st to achieve this, and we are going to need the Province’s help and support; we’re grateful that they’re working alongside us.

Community Care Tent, Showers and Water at Central Park
Some of you have written to us upset or angry about the removal of the Community Care Tent and showers at Meegan/Beacon Hill Park on Friday morning. This was a very difficult situation for everyone involved.

For what it’s worth – hopefully at least worth a read – I’d like to try to fix the game of broken telephone that social media has become and to share a few facts. As I’ve said in my blog posts over the past two Sundays, the tent and the showers were in violation of the Beacon Hill Trust and could not be allowed to remain. Instead of immediately removing the tent when it was set up on October 20th, staff posted a notice that the tent was in violation of the Parks Bylaws (which also reflects the Beacon Hill Trust) and asked that it be removed. See my blog post from last week to learn more.

Over the next few weeks staff and Councillor Potts worked hard with the volunteers who had set up the tent and the showers to find a new location for the them adjacent to the park – so the much needed services could be provided. Staff noted that the tent and the showers could both be relocated to an area adjacent to the park and provided information as to how the City could help to make this happen and what the volunteers needed to do as well. All of this can still happen and indeed the City has created a $100,000 grant program to help. More on that below.

But in the meantime, the showers were discharging grey water directly into the City’s storm drain system. And the care tent had a number of generators, gas cans, and other dangerous combustible materials. As the government, we need to balance safety needs with other needs. And we need to balance the immediate needs of those in Beacon Hill Park with the responsibility of the City to ensure that the park is available to all residents of Victoria for all uses for the long term. If the City is found by the courts to be in violation of the Trust, the risk is that we could lose the park altogether. This wouldn’t be good for anyone neither those currently sheltering nor the rest of the general public.

Some of you have said that the Beacon Hill Trust is a tool of colonization and that we should just ignore it for that reason. I agree that it is a colonial tool. And the City of Victoria is a colonial government. But for the reasons outlined above and last week, we can’t simply ignore the Trust, we have to uphold our responsibility under it.

I’ve also received emails (and I’m know this is also circulating on social media) about the police dismantling the tent and throwing everything inside into the garbage. The police were there to ensure that the bylaw officers and the contractors the City hired to help could do their work, so that neither members of the public or the workers would get injured. All of the items in the tent were carefully labelled and organized and are being stored and are available to be picked up from City bylaw. Nothing was thrown out. We recognize the hard work of the volunteers who want to help and those who brought donations.

One more update: I got an email asking why the drinking water had been turned off at Central Park this week. When people started to move to Central Park, City staff set up a water station so there would be access to potable water. Recently as it’s gotten colder out, the station – which was designed as a temporary measure – began to freeze. Staff turned it off for a short period so they could fix it and get it ready for winter. As of Friday the water was running again.

$100,000 Grant Program to Address Immediate Needs
We are 10 months into a global heath pandemic and people have been living outside during this time with a hodge podge of health and hygiene services provided by the City, service providers and volunteers. There’s still a gap.

On November 5th the City learned that it would receive $6.5 million in federal-provincial “restart” money to help address budget shortfalls and other needs as a result of COVID-19. On November 19th, Council created a $100,000 grant program with some of this money in order to help meet the still unmet needs of people living outdoors, including mobile hygiene/shower services and some of the other services that were offered by the care tent in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park.

The grant applications are due this Wednesday, November 25th. Council will evaluate them November 26th and the funds will be dispersed as soon as possible after that so that these necessary services can be provided. We’re looking for creative, innovative ideas. The application form can be found here.

Housing Update
For those of you who are looking for updates on the number of people being housed, on Friday the Community Wellness Alliance Decampment Working Group which is made up of BC Housing, Island Health, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and Our Place, decided that BC Housing, Island Health and the Aboriginal Coalition would provide monthly updates on the movement of people from supportive housing into market housing and from parks to supportive housing. I’ll share the progress updates on my blog. Of course we will respect everyone’s privacy and only numbers of people will be shared, not names or locations.

And speaking of progress, we’ve run into a few hurdles to our goal of moving 200 people inside by the end of the year. We look forward to the new provincial government getting sworn in and helping us further to sort through some of these challenges.

The first hurdle was the fire at the Capital City Centre that displaced 84 people. Everyone had to move out. The motel is being repaired and people will be moving back in when it is ready. But not all the rooms will be available and we don’t know how many – if any – will be available before the end of the year. That means that some of the units we were counting on to move people into – the 60 new Regional Housing First Units in Langford and View Royal that are opening this month and next, and the 110 rent supplement units – will be needed by people displaced from Capital City Centre.

Additionally, we’ve been bending our brains for the past few weeks with Island Health, BC Housing, the United Way of Greater Victoria and Devon Properties to figure out how to creatively fill the gap between the $825 total rent available with a rent supplement and the monthly market rents in the region that range from $1200-$1500 per month. Please email me mayor@victoria.ca if you have any ideas! Others have been working on a program to support landlords who are considering renting to people who are ready to move out of supportive housing and into the private market.

So of course we’re not giving up because we believe that housing is a human right and winter is here and no one should be outside. But we’re going to need some more help to meet the year-end goal.

About Everything Else
A few of you have written and said that I am overly concerned with people who are homeless and don’t care about anyone or anything else. It’s true that this is a really pressing issue for all of us right now. And it’s true that Council, the City’s senior leadership team, and especially our front line staff across many departments are working hard on this issue right now, both to manage it and to help develop solutions. It’s the issue that fills up my email inbox the most. And it’s the issue that tends to fill the papers and newscasts, in addition, of course to news and information about COVID-19.

But I do want you all to know that while I’m spending a lot of time, energy and convening power on addressing homelessness, we’re working hard on everything else too. Our staff are out there every day providing over 200 services directly to residents and businesses. Garbage is being picked up, clean water is coming out of our taps, potholes are being filled, etc.

As for me, I considered putting a screen shot of my calendar from last week here so you could see all the other things I’m working on, but it looked way too crammed and kind of impossible to read. Then I thought I might make a long list of all the projects that we’re working on to help small businesses recover from COVID-19, to diversify our economy for the future, to address climate change and so on.

But I don’t think you want snapshots of calendars, or lists. I think you just want to know that I’m listening and that I hear you. Since late August I’ve been reading hundreds of emails weekly and responding in what I hope is a heartfelt, direct and honest way. I’m listening. And I hear you. I hear you in all your diversity of opinion: those of you who think we’re not doing enough to support people who are living without homes and those who think we are doing too much; those of you who think the city is going downhill and those of you who are happy about all the changes you’re seeing as we prepare for the future.

I hear your anger, your frustration, your fear. I hear your gratitude and your generosity. I hear how difficult a time this is for some people, for so many reasons. None of us have lived through a global health pandemic, and I certainly didn’t expect to be the mayor leading through one! I hear you when you say it is a really difficult time. And I hope you hear me when I say that we will get through this, together.

With gratitude,
Lisa / Mayor Helps

meegan/Beacon Hill Park, showers, human rights, The state of the City, and covid-19 second wave – Mayor’s Sunday Email – November 15 2020

Click on the picture to learn more about The Shift’s work or follow #MakeTheShift

Hello everyone,

I continue to receive lots of emails on sheltering related issues and I want to make sure everyone gets a response and has information, so I’m answering you all at once! I hope you’ll take the time to read and share with others too. These emails tend to be long, but it’s because I want to address the key issues that we’re hearing about. If you’d like to stay up to date and receive emails from me on a weekly basis you can sign up for my blog here.

I have to admit that when I read through the 94 emails I received this week on this topic, I felt a bit depressed. You would too if you saw my inbox. Many of you wrote saying how terrible Council and I are for not supporting people who are living without homes, for cutting off all the water in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park (this didn’t happen), for violating human rights, for asking that the Community Care Tent be completely dismantled (this didn’t happen), for not supporting community efforts to support the homeless. There were also a few really angry emails from people that had received a small portion of the email I sent last weekend, taken out of context and turned into a picture (presumably shared on social media) that took me to task for saying that providing housing perpetuates addiction. I didn’t say this.

And then, there is another whole series of angry emails from people asking me how we could continue to let people shelter in parks, how we would dare provide hygiene services or bus tickets to access them with their tax dollars, why we couldn’t immediately dismantle the Community Care Tent, how could we let the city, the downtown go like we have. And so on.

Although there were a few people who wrote with curiosity and a spirit of generosity, the common tone from both so-called sides was anger. I get it. We’re in the middle of a global health pandemic with no end in sight. You’re tired of the uncertainty. You just want things to go back to normal. You don’t want to have to work so hard to have people’s basic needs met. You want to be able to walk in the park and not worry, or feel heartbreak for those who are sleeping outside. You wish your mayor and your city council could fix everything that’s broken.

I wish this too. But we can’t. The challenges are too big, too complex. They’re systemic. Leilani Farha who works with The Shift on the right to housing said the other day that she couldn’t name one major city in Canada that doesn’t have encampments.

But what we can do – and what we are doing, every day – is to continue to work to get people into safe, secure affordable housing with the supports they need. We can continue to convene BC Housing, Island Health, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, provincial staff and many others to do this. We can set bold goals, like the one Council adopted this week – to get everyone currently sheltering in parks into housing, or shelters on the pathway to housing by March 31st 2021 and once that happens, to end 24/7 camping in parks.

And perhaps most importantly, we can share information.

Showers and Water at Meegan*/Beacon Hill Park
Last weekend a group of residents wanting to help out fellow residents installed showers in Beacon Hill Park. These showers were built by experienced carpenters and they looked really great. But they were also proposed to be heated with propane and hadn’t been certified or inspected. If the showers were hooked up to water and used and there was an explosion of some sort, someone who was showering could get really hurt. This wasn’t a chance that city staff wanted to take. Also the showers could put the city in violation of the Beacon Hill Trust (see last week’s blog post for more information). City staff turned off the water at the one tap at the gravel field. All the other water sources and washrooms in the park remain open and on 24 hours a day seven days a week as they have been since people have been sheltering in the park during the pandemic.

I wish I’d had time to write back to all of you during the week, one at a time. This would probably have helped with the spread of misinformation. I’m member of the national Right to Home working group and am working closely with Leilani Farha who wrote the UN Protocol for Encampments that some of you sent to me this week. But more than my membership in any national working group, I had hoped that our approach to sheltering during COVID-19 – not displacing people and doing our very best to provide the hygiene support necessary – would speak for itself.

The showers were removed earlier in the week by the people who put them there.

Last week the City got funding to keep showers open at Our Place seven days a week from 8am to 9pm; there are now 13 hours every day where people can access showers. To help those who need to get there Council is funding bus tickets. See my blog post from last week for more details. There are still gaps. I will say more about this below.

Community Care Tent
As noted in my blog post last Sunday, Council values the services provided by the Community Care Tent. It’s just that the tent violates the Beacon Hill Trust. As I also said last week, the consequences of the City being found in violation of the Trust are severe and would likely be detrimental to people who are currently sheltering in the park. This is a very real threat as the Friends of Beacon Hill have vowed to sue the City to end sheltering in the park.

All Council asked was that the tent be moved to a spot adjacent to the park. My understanding is that some of the people who run the tent are meeting with staff on Monday to explore an alternate location for the tent. My greatest hope is that a compromise can be found that meets the needs of people sheltering and respects the City’s obligation as a Trustee of the park.

Emergency Social Services Grant to Meet Unmet Needs
What’s become clear in these past few weeks is that despite the fact that organizations that provide direct services to unhoused people have been awarded $464,952 through the federal Reaching Home program administered by the CRD, between July 1st 2020 and March 31st 2021 “for people who are unsheltered, to coordinate and facilitate ongoing access to drinking water, food, hygiene and health supplies, sheltering supplies, clothing, bathrooms, showers, handwashing, laundry, health and harm reduction services, fire safety supplies and plans, or waste management,” there is still an unmet need.

To help address this gap, on Thursday, Council created an emergency social services grant program of $100,000 from the federal-provincial restart money we received recently, to provide mobile showers and other social services to people in parks until the end of March 2021. The applications are due November 25th and will be adjudicated by Council on November 26th. The funds will be dispersed soon after that so that the much-needed services can be put in place as soon as possible.

The State of the City
For those of you who have written concerned about the state of the city, I hear you. Downtowns across the country have been hard hit by the pandemic. With so many people working from home, less foot traffic, theatres and live music venues closed, festivals cancelled, bars closing early, and of course the people left on the streets and in parks when everyone else has a home to go to, downtowns across the country are struggling. In the middle of this global health pandemic, Victoria is no exception.

However, it seems that those looking at Victoria from the outside have a bit of a different story to tell about our city than we’re sometimes able to tell ourselves. This past week the global media company Monocle have released their 2021 Small Cities Index, with Victoria ranked the 5th best small city in the world, up from 16th last year.

With an inbox tinged with negativity and pessimism this week about the state of the city, it was a good week to be named as one of the top small cities in the world! Victoria is clearly seen globally as a city of economic opportunity, diversity and a very high quality of life.

COVID-19 Second Wave
I always try to close these emails with a heartfelt message after so much of what might seem like curt fact sharing. The second wave of COVID-19 is upon us. One of my colleagues said it feels more like a tsunami. So far we’ve been doing really well in Victoria and on Vancouver Island, but the early warning sign of our growing case numbers is concerning.

In December 2019 and early in 2020, we watched COVID-19 hit China, then Europe, then the US and Canada. It was like watching a wave slowly build and then crash down on us. For the past few months I’ve had the same feeling watching Ontario and Quebec, then Manitoba, now Alberta, now the lower mainland. I really don’t want us to be next. I want there to be two “bubbles” in Canada, the “Atlantic bubble” as it’s called, and the Vancouver Island bubble. We can do this!

I know it’s exhausting. We count the days at City Hall; as of Friday we’ve been living in a global health pandemic for 249 days. That’s a lot. But we can and must continue to follow Dr. Henry’s orders: stay home if we’re sick, stick to our safe six in home gatherings, keep our distances, wear masks in indoor settings, and wash our hands. And we can also continue to follow Dr. Henry’s lead. We can be calm. And we can be kind. We will get through this.

To those of you who are living in encampments in Victoria, British Columbia, and across the country, I’m sorry that we have failed you. I am sorry that you’re living outside in the middle of a global health pandemic, that your basic right to housing is not being met. When the cold wind blows, when the rain comes down sideways, as the nights get longer and colder and darker, I think of each of you.

As this second wave of COVID-19 hits – in addition to supporting our businesses by implementing Victoria 3.0 – we’re going to work extra hard here, City Council and staff, along with BC Housing, Island Health and all our partners and allies, to meet your needs. We know you want housing; BC Housing has many of your housing applications, and if they don’t yet, please ask around in the parks the next time you see an outreach worker to ensure you get an application filled out. We’re going to work really hard, with you and for you, together as a community, to meet your right to housing.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

*Meegan is the Lekwungen name for Beacon Hill Park. Some of you who wrote this week used this name for it.

Showers, community care tent, The City’s role and next steps towards housing – mayor’s sunday Email – november 8 2020

The City’s new Fire Hall under construction on Johnson Street with 130 units of affordable housing on top.

Hello everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. We’re still receiving quite a few emails on the topic of people sleeping outside. I’m writing back to everyone at once as I want to make sure to respond to all of you and to share information. If you’d like to stay in touch on this topic, you can follow my blog here. If you’d like to know about the efforts the City along with BC Housing, Island Health and other community partners are making to move people inside – we’ve set a goal of responding to the needs of 200 people for indoor sheltering by the end of 2020 – please read my blog posts from Sunday November 1st and Sunday October 25th. There is a lot of information in those posts on the work that’s happening and the progress we’re making to move people indoors.

This week most of the emails we’ve received are focused on bus passes, the installation of showers and the Community Care Tent in Beacon Hill Park to. So I’m going to focus on responding to those issues. After that I’ll respond to some of the other concerns you’ve raised about people camping in parks and share a report that Councillor Loveday and I are bringing to City Council this coming Thursday. It outlines the work we need to do as a community to get the people currently living in our parks inside, safe and secure with the supports needed and put an end for the need for people to shelter in parks.

As always, I’ll use headings so feel free to skip to the section that interests you. I do encourage you to read the whole email if you can – there’s lots of important information here. And from some of the emails we’ve received, it seems like some people might not have the full picture, especially when it comes to Beacon Hill Park.

Bus Passes and Showers
During the pandemic, each city across Canada has taken a different approach to ensuring that people living outside have access to showers. For example, in London Ontario, the YMCA opened its doors for people without homes to shower. In Edmonton there is a roving shower trailer that goes to different locations around the city.

In Victoria, when there was a large encampment in Topaz Park, there was a shower trailer set up there that was run by the service providers who were overseeing the operations of the camp. At the same time, the City provided additional funding to Our Place and also deployed City staff to ensure COVID-19 cleaning protocols could be followed in the Our Place showers when there was a large encampment on the Pandora corridor. Since people moved inside from those encampments in May, showers have been available at Our Place.

However, we’ve heard and learned that people living outside haven’t had adequate access to the showers at Our Place because they are not open long enough, because some people weren’t able to get there, and because some people didn’t feel comfortable leaving their important belongings in their tents while they went to shower. That’s why this week – with the leadership of Councillor Thornton-Joe – the City has accessed funding to keep showers open at Our Place seven days a week from 8am to 9pm; there are now 13 hours every day where people can access showers.

To help those who need to get there – and because of the leadership of Councillor Potts and the Community Social Planning Council – Council unanimously adopted a motion last Thursday to allocate up to $2800 per month for the next three months to pay for bus tickets for people who need to take the bus to get to showers. And, Our Place recognizes the need for people’s belongings to be safe. That’s why they’ve created space in their lockers for people to leave their belongings safely while they shower.

This is not a perfect solution. A perfect solution is that people live inside, in safe, secure housing. And that they can have a shower in their home, just like those of us who live inside do every day. But it’s a made-in-Victoria solution to providing access to showers, just as other cities across the country have come up with their own solutions.

Community Care Tent and Showers in Beacon Hill Park
Many of you wrote this week expressing support for the Community Care Tent that has been set up in Beacon Hill Park noting the value that it is providing to the people who are living outside. The majority of Council agrees that this is valuable. That’s why, hearing the concerns of the community about the need for this care tent, Council voted 7-1 at our meeting Thursday to direct staff to work with the community organizations running the tent to find an appropriate location for it nearby but not in the park.

Council has given direction. The tent can’t remain in the park. There is a really important piece of information that I hope everyone interested in this issue will take to heart and share with others. Beacon Hill Park is governed by the Beacon Hill Trust that dates back to 1882. The Trust dictates the kinds of activities that can happen in the park and the kind that can’t. The Trust has been tested in court a number of times and each time it has been upheld.

The Community Care Tent is not the kind of activity or structure that can remain in the park according to the Trust. This is really important and should be of concern to everyone who cares about the right for people to shelter in Beacon Hill Park. If the Community Care Tent is not removed, the City could be found to be in violation of the Trust. Being found in violation of the Trust is serious and could put the park at risk and some important uses that are valued by the community may not be able to continue.

The showers installed in the park fall into the same category. This is why Council worked hard to get a showering solution in place as outlined above. The showers also can’t remain in the park.

This is a situation where context and the bigger picture need to be considered so that we are able, collectively, to take care of and provide services to our most vulnerable residents. We’re all working towards the same end.

Following Council’s direction, and knowing that Council sees the need for the Community Care Tent, on Friday staff in Parks and Engineering worked hard to come up with a solution. We are grateful for their work to do so. On Friday evening Council got a note from our Director of Parks letting us know that representatives from Engineering worked on the technical requirements for where the tent could relocate. On Friday evening staff were advised by one person – speaking on behalf of the tent group – that they in fact had no interest in moving the tent to any new location. 

Some of you have appealed to staff directly. Council has given staff clear direction to come up with a compromise. If you have concerns about these issues, please write to mayorandcouncil@victoria.ca rather than to our staff.

Next Steps and the City’s Role
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve received so many emails outlining the challenges that sheltering in parks is having on everyone – those sheltering and those wanting to use the parks. And I’ve been updating weekly for a few months now on the actions that the City is taking. There seems to be one thing that I’m not communicating clearly enough, as each week we still receive emails like this one:

“You need to find a way to treat those addicted and break the cycle of supply and demand. Focus your energy towards this goal and not in the direction it appears to be heading. Housing people even if it were possible does not cure the addictions they carry. Medical intervention should be the mandate followed. Free tenting or housing just leaves the situation to continue to grow … I hope this  clarity will guide you and council to brighter days and better times for those less advantaged.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this email. But – and here’s the clarity – cities are not health care providers. Myself and the 12 other mayors in the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus agree that the number one issue facing our cities across the province right now, is the untreated mental health and addictions crisis. There are people left on the street or living in motels with complex needs who need comprehensive medical care. We look forward to working hard alongside the new government to make sure that these needs are met, to everyone’s benefit.

So what can the City do? Here’s a excerpt from the report that Councillor Loveday and I are bringing to Council for consideration on Thursday. Our recommendations are at the end of the excerpt. You can read the whole report here.

Background
The recommendations here are a suite of actions that the City and its partners can take to work towards providing housing or indoor shelter with a path to permanent housing to everyone currently sheltering outdoors in the city and to put an end to 24/7 camping in city parks. We understand that not all of the solutions outlined in the recommendations will be implemented by March 31st. But we are confident that working together with BC Housing and Island Health, enough indoor spaces can be provided by March 31st while medium term solutions – like the construction of affordable, supportive housing on Yates Street and Meares Street through modular (quick) construction methods – will follow. There is urgency to act now with winter upon us. We believe that setting a goal to work towards will help focus and mobilize action. 

Additionally, doing this work together with the Province will result in savings for both parties. Earlier this year the Province spent a significant amount of money to run a tent encampment in Topaz Park. The Province has also supported the City through Emergency Management BC with roughly $500,000 in funding to help manage sheltering related costs during the Provincial State of Emergency. This year it is estimated that the City’s direct costs for managing sheltering in parks will be $1.4 million. For the 2021 budget – if the status quo remains – staff are estimating a $1.7 million expenditure for managing outdoor sheltering.

City of Victoria Support for Affordable Housing
The City of Victoria has been supporting the creation of affordable housing for at least a decade. The City of Victoria Housing Reserve Fund supports the creation of affordable housing through direct funding of units on a per-bedroom basis including $10,000 per bedroom for low-income units and $5000 per bedroom for moderate income units. The per bedroom basis incentives the creation of larger units. Non-profit developers often express that although it is a small contribution compared to those from senior levels of government, the City’s contribution helps to make projects viable.

The City created the 2016-2025 Victoria Housing Strategy which is currently in Phase Two (2019-2022). The Housing Strategy begins from the premise that housing is a human right and prioritizes actions that create affordable housing. The five key themes of Phase Two include prioritizing renters and renter households, increasing the supply of housing for low to moderate income households in Victoria, increasing housing choice for all Victorians, optimizing existing policies and processes, and trying new and bold approaches. As a result of COVID-19, Council has re-prioritized the Phase Two actions that will help to ensure housing security for renters.  

The City has also used City-owned land for the purposes of supporting affordable housing. Together with School District 61, the City has contributed land to a project on Caledonia Street, which, if approved, will see the creation of 158 affordable units. In Burnside Gorge the City has also contributed city land and partnered with SD61 for the creation of 88 units of affordable housing. On top of the City’s new fire hall on Johnson Street there are 130 units of affordable housing under construction. And the City has recently purchased land that could be used for affordable housing and other community purposes.

The City does not have constitutional jurisdiction over housing or the resources to provide housing and shelter. Yet it is clear that we have – and will continue ­– to do our part using the tools and resources available to us, in partnership with BC Housing and Island Health, other public agencies and non-profits, and the private sector.

City of Victoria Advocacy Efforts
The City of Victoria has worked hard over the past six years to advocate for housing funding from the provincial and federal governments. It was a motion from Victoria City Council to the CRD that resulted in the beginnings of the CRD Regional Housing First Program. It was CRD staff that took the idea from Victoria Council and worked creatively to develop a program that resulted in a $40 million regional investment that was matched by $40 million from both the provincial and federal governments. This $120 million in funding has leveraged a total of $600 million in construction and will result in 2000 units of affordable and rental housing, including 400 units that rent at $375 per month. At this point, the majority of these units are being built outside of the City of Victoria.

In addition, Mayor Helps has been part of the Right to Home national municipal working group since the beginning of COVID-19. This national organizing and advocacy helped to shape the federal Rapid Housing Initiative and included the CRD securing $13 million through this initiative – the only regional district in the country to receive direct funding.

While both of these programs are regional in nature and have been initiated and supported by regional staff and elected officials across the region, the City’s efforts have been instrumental. 

Need for Shelter for all in Global Health Pandemic
People are sheltering in parks in the City and across the province and country because when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shelters had to reduce their numbers because of physical distancing measures. These physical distancing measures are still in place. 

We are now in the second wave of a pandemic that has hit seniors disproportionately. While it is unacceptable for anyone to be living outside in the middle of a global health pandemic, it is unconscionable that there are seniors living in tents when there is a recently vacated seniors home in our region. 

We respect that Oak Bay Council and the CRD are in a planning process for the future of the Oak Bay Lodge lands. We also understand that the building will be demolished at some point to make way for the new development. What we don’t think we should accept as a community is that it is more acceptable for seniors to spend the winter in tents than it is for them to spend the winter in a building recently vacated by seniors. 

Earlier in the pandemic there was a shortage of operators and not enough staff for temporary affordable housing sites. Recently a housing provider needed to hire 40 staff when they took over the running of a couple of housing sites; they were able to easily hire 40 staff who were trained to work in affordable housing sites. 

We recommend that the Province move seniors currently living in parks into a small portion of the Oak Bay Lodge until the building is demolished and secure an operator to run a small portion of the building. We understand that the building is in poor condition. We are certain that the condition of the building is better than a tent for a 70 year old. 

Recommendations

1.  That Council direct staff to work with a private land owner or to use city-owned land for the construction of temporary tiny home clusters of no more than 30 units beginning with one pilot project in Q1 of 2021 subject to the availability of one year of operating funding from BC Housing.

2.  That Council allocate a portion of the City’s federal-provincial restart money in early 2021 to help fund solutions that will move people indoors.

3.  That the City request the Province immediately open Oak Bay Lodge to people 55 years and older who are currently living in City parks until the vacant building is demolished for redevelopment.

4.   That the City indicate to the Province that it supports the use of the two sites recently purchased by the Province on Yates Street and Meares Street for affordable, supportive housing and encourages the Province to begin construction of modular housing on those sites as soon as possible, respecting the City’s design guidelines.

5.   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.

6.  That the City supports partner agencies in engaging people currently sheltering in City parks to determine their housing and support needs, to inform the operation of shelter and housing facilities and ensure access to safe and adequate housing for all. 

Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this very long email. As always, I know there is a lot of information in here. It’s really important to me that this is shared as widely as possible so that everyone in the community has access. Please feel free to forward. And to stay in touch, sign up here.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps