Let’s Not Let the Issue of Homelessness Divide Us

These are photos of new modular housing on Hillside Ave called Spa’qun House opening soon for Aboriginal women experiencing homelessness and run by the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness. Too often when people write about Beacon Hill Park, or other sites where people are living outdoors, they show pictures of people camping rather than the solution: safe, secure, affordable housing.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, British Columbians have been guided by the calm and thoughtful advice of Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. Following her advice and working together, we’ve flattened the curve. Yet, while it may be starting to feel as if COVID-19 is behind us with the city opening up, Dr. Henry cautioned recently, “The pandemic is far from over.”

When the pandemic hit, shelters for people experiencing homelessness closed or cut their numbers to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. This reduced capacity, combined with the closure of other services, meant that the only option left for many people was to sleep outside.

At that time, the City made a decision to allow people to leave their tents up during the day in order to help people who had no homes follow the doctor’s orders and “stay at home.” As I’m learning from participating in a National Working Group on Homelessness and Housing in COVID-19, cities across the country are finding themselves in similar situations. We are not alone in this challenge.

Encampments are growing in size and number across the country, as an outcome of the pandemic. And cities are struggling to manage the inflow of people into encampments and responding to the additional concerns of large tent cities.

In British Columbia, the provincial government stepped up in a big way. In a six-week period they provided indoor sheltering, medical care, and other supports to hundreds of people. Yet there are still hundreds left behind, living outside. Many of them are in Beacon Hill Park with others camped outside our offices at City Hall.

We’ve received hundreds of emails, a petition, and social media rallying cries to remove people camping in Beacon Hill Park. The writers and petitioners want the park for much-needed recreation after many weeks of self-isolation and staying inside. They are also worried about the Garry Oak meadows, the camas fields, and the sensitive ecosystems. I am too.

I’m also worried about the majority of Victorians who are renters, many of whom don’t have backyards and therefore count on parks and greenspaces for recreation and exercise. And, a significant portion of Victoria’s renters are lower-income families; they can’t afford to take their kids to Parksville or Qualicum this summer. Picnics and play dates in Beacon Hill Park are their summer vacations.

It’s an impossible situation to navigate, balancing all these needs in a public health emergency. And so, as we all have many times in the past months, we turn to Dr. Henry for advice and guidance.

On June 8th, Dr. Henry wrote to Mayors, Regional District Chairs and CAOs with Guidelines and Best Practices for Response to Homeless Encampment Health Issues in the Context of COVID-19. She said, “These guidelines also consider how local governments can help support and reduce health and safety risks for vulnerable groups through discretion in bylaw enforcement, provision of outreach and supports and by partnering to provide harm reduction, mental health and addictions services.”

The guidelines clearly state that, “Local governments can help support people experiencing homelessness to reduce health risks and to improve access to essential services, supplies and supports. This may include looking at any bylaws that require people experiencing homelessness to move or leave safe shelter, be that a park or vehicle. Clearing or moving encampments without providing shelter or housing immediately can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers.”

This means that we will likely have people camping in parks until the pandemic is over, Dr. Henry gives us updated advice, or more indoor sheltering locations can be secured.

Of course, in the calm and kind manner we’ve all come to expect from her, the guidelines also speak to the need for certain ground rules to be in place for everyone’s safety, and for camping to happen in appropriate places.

As the petitioners rightly point out, areas with sensitive ecosystems in Beacon Hill Park are not appropriate. This means that people must move from the ecologically sensitive areas to other parts of Beacon Hill Park, or other parks. Some are starting to do so.

What can we all do help in these unprecedented times?  We can thank the provincial government for their significant investment, and we can ask the federal government to match it to purchase more motels. We can ask all local governments in the CRD to work with the Province to build permanent, purpose built modular housing with supports, as pictured above. We’re going to need hundreds of units.

And most of all, we can be calm and be kind. The pandemic is far from over. Rather than let the challenge of homelessness divide us, we need to continue to come together as a community ­to get through it.

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Participatory Budgeting and Everyday Creativity Grants Help Residents #buildbackbetter

Update on City’s COVID-19 response and recovery. Video from Friday, June 26 2020.

The Province has announced Phase 3 of its ReStart Plan, which allows for “safe and smart travel” within BC and the re-opening of more hotels and resorts. Destination Greater Victoria is also promoting wide open spaces and places in Victoria, and ideas for what visitors from other parts of the province can do when visiting the Capital City. For more information, visit them here.

This is really good news for Victoria as tourism is a key element of our economy, particularly during the summer months. Destination Greater Victoria is doing some amazing work in re-thinking what tourism looks like in Victoria and I encourage everyone to be a tourist in our own home town – to check out some of the things you haven’t yet checked out and explore places you haven’t yet explored.

The federal and provincial governments recently committed $20 million to match the Capital Regional District’s contribution of $10 million for the Regional Housing First Program which is on track to have more than 1,800 affordable housing units completed or under construction in Greater Victoria by the end of 2022. The units will be a mixture of shelter-rate, affordable rental, and near-market rental – all of which are needed in the region.

We’re grateful to the provincial and federal governments and the Capital Regional District for their investments in the Regional Housing First program. This unprecedented program was made possible by all municipalities participating and is exactly the kind of cooperation we need to address housing affordability and homelessness across the region.

At last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, based on public health advice, Council voted to allow people without homes to keep their tents up in permitted sheltering areas in the city until further advice is received by Dr. Bonnie Henry.

This is a temporary measure due to COVID-19. Services and shelters have been severely reduced and people without homes literally have nowhere to go during the day. I’d like to ask for patience and understanding, recognizing that we are still in the middle of a global health pandemic. Victoria is not alone. We need to work together and advocate to the provincial and particularly the federal government for more housing solutions.

Last Thursday, Council approved the Everyday Creativity Grant, a new, one-time grant aimed at increasing access for everyone to be creative through the arts and improve mental and physical health. Non-profit organizations or people partnering with non-profits are invited to submit ideas for engaging people to be creative and participate in the arts. Projects with an emphasis on learning, creative expression and broad public participation are eligible and grants range from $500 to $5,000. Information on how to apply will be available next week.

The City’s Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee is seeking proposals for the 2020 Participatory Budgeting initiative, which will see $50,000 invested in projects benefiting new immigrants and refugees in Victoria. Anyone with an idea for a project or activity that will enhance or enrich the lives of newcomers in the  community is invited to apply online at here by 4 p.m. on July 31, 2020.

If you have an idea or are curious about the participatory budgeting process and want to know more, two virtual open houses will be held on July 7 and 11 where you can learn all about it.  I’m curious to see which projects our residents think are important.

To date, under the Build Back Victoria initiative, the City has received 55 applications for new patios or flex spaces, 28 of which have been approved and 16 are in progress. Build Back Victoria initiatives support local businesses during their re-opening and recovery from the pandemic by providing public spaces for private use. Spaces on sidewalks, on streets, in parking spaces, and in plazas and parks are temporarily being made available for businesses to expand their footprint to safely conduct commercial activities.

These applications are coming from all over the city – downtown, James Bay, Fernwood, Hillside-Quadra. It’s great to see more space being created for businesses. We really need to do what we can to help businesses through this very challenging time. And it’s great for us, their loyal customers.

The community is invited to watch Victoria’s Canada Day, a virtual celebration on July 1 at 7 p.m. on CHEK for an impressive line-up of diverse, multicultural performances and community content. The one-hour, commercial free broadcast will also be streamed on canadadayvictoria.ca and the City’s YouTube channel.

Hosted by CHEK’s Joe Perkins and Stacy Ross, Victoria’s Canada Day will feature musical performances from an exciting local line-up, with a special performance by the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers.

What it means to live in Canada very much depends on your personal experience, whether you’re Indigenous, a newcomer, or have lived here for much or all of your life. We need to respect that for many, Canada Day is not an occasion for celebration. We need to acknowledge together our past wrongs and continue to work together with respect, cooperation and in partnership towards reconciliation.

Even though we can’t physically be together on the Legislature Lawn as we usually do, we can still come together virtually to mark Canada’s strengths and its diversity.

 

 

 

Build Back Victoria Off to a Great Start!

Video of weekly Facebook live address. Friday June 19, 2020. Tune in Fridays at 1pm on the City’s Facebook page.

Saturday June 20th is World Refugee Day, a day to mark the challenges faced by refugees world wide. It’s also an opportunity to reassert that Victoria is a welcoming city and a place that has room in it for everyone. We’ve been welcoming refugees for decades and will continue to do so, working even harder through a new Welcoming Cities Task Force to make sure that Victoria is a place where everyone feels safe, welcomed and a sense of belonging. Each year we gather as a community to raise a flag for World Refugee Day. We can’t do this this year, so we’ve recorded a video that will be shown tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21st is National Indigenous People’s Day. In non-COVID times, today would have marked the beginning of the Aboriginal Cultural Festival in downtown Victoria. Again, because we can’t gather together this year, we’ve created a video that will be released on Sunday acknowledging the struggles and racism Indigenous people in Canada continue to face and also the ongoing resilience and generosity of the Lekwungen people on whose lands the city is built.

News from the Province

This week the Province announced that they will begin engagement on BC’s economic recovery plan. I encourage residents to submit their ideas to the Province about how we can build a strong and resilient economy now and for the future as we recover from this unprecedented event. They will also be hosting virtual town halls to gather information. All the information is here.

The Province also recently announced that the Temporary Rental Supplement that offers up to $500 per month to help renters and landlord shas been extended to the end of August. The extension maintains the rent freeze and ban on evictions for non-payment of rent. Living in a place like Victoria where we know rent costs are high, it’s  great to see the provincial government extend their rental support and eviction freeze program that is helping the three out of five residents in Victoria that are currently renters. For more information on the rent supplement and to apply, you can head here.

Build Back Victoria

I’ve got an exciting update on our Build Back Victoria initiatives! We have received over 40 applications from restaurant owners and retailers both large and small for extended patio space and flex space all around the city.  Staff are turning these requests around in days. Council saw the need, staff developed the tools, and businesses are using them. I’ve seen some of these new outdoor spaces full! This is exactly what we envisioned to help businesses to flourish again. And it seems to be working. CHEK news did a great piece tonight on the Build Back Victoria patio program.

Recreation

I’m excited that Royal Athletic Park is shaping up to be the hub for recreation this summer. We have summer day camps available for registration, as well as outdoor fitness programs, such as yoga, bootcamps and even personal training. This is all happening outdoors with proper COVID-19 protocols in place. There will be open community drop-in time for residents to come in and enjoy large grass field in the stadium. Our recreation page has all the information.

Our summer camps program will take up to 80 kids per week in groups of 10-12. You can learn more here and register here. These are great low-cost options for kids ages 5-14 years old.

There’s also an online survey so you can let our staff know what types of programs you’re most interested in.

Creative spotlight

Our Arts, Culture and Events team are in their third week of the Creative Spotlight campaign teaming up with local artists and makers to put a spotlight on creativity in our community.

This week’s feature is performer, song writer and educator Eden Oliver. You can read all about Eden’s favourite things to do in North Park including boulevard gardening, getting Cold Comfort ice cream and preparing for a performance from their porch that will live stream on Saturday afternoon. You can read more at Creative Spotlight.

And tonight Victoria’s Youth Poet Laureate invited the community to check out Youth Verses, a virtual showcase of visual and performing art created by local youth artists and streamed live on Facebook. Over the past three weeks, 12 youth aged 14 – 19 have connected online to participate in workshops facilitated by Neko Smart and guest facilitators, with the overarching intent to facilitate conversations on ways to harness creativity while navigating mental health. You can learn more and find a link to the performance here.

Canada Day

Last week we announced this year’s plans for a virtual Canada Day here in Victoria. A reminder that we are taking your video submissions about what living in Canada means to you. Head to Canada Day Victoria for more info and to submit.

We know that Canada’s history is complicated, and we are working hard to understand this complicated and painful history through the City Family and the City’s Witness Reconciliation Program, led by the Lekwungen speaking peoples. As always the Canada Day events will begin with a welcome from the Lekwungen Dancers.

 

 

 

 

 

Build Back Victoria: A Path to Re-Opening and Recovery

Screenshot 2020-06-07 11.58.46

The City has implemented a number of initiatives to support local businesses and the community to re-open and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, including $575,000 in economic stimulus grants.

The new initiatives will give restaurants and businesses the opportunity to expand their patios, and services on sidewalks, streets and neighbourhood squares and plazas. Parks will also be opened up for approved business use, such as outdoor yoga and fitness classes. Applications opened today. And there are no fees to apply or to use public space.   To apply, visit victoria.ca/bizresouces

We are also unleashing the creativity of our community to build back by opening up space for businesses to expand while meeting social distancing requirements. These sweeping new programs are informed by what we have heard from businesses, artists and community groups for what’s needed for recovery right now.

In addition to the temporary flex space for businesses, the City has created 14 mobile vending stalls throughout neighbourhoods to allow food trucks and other mobile businesses to operate. Businesses can also apply for special customer pickup and delivery zones in front of or near their locations.

Those businesses already serving alcohol in their day-to-day operations were given additional freedom by Council to open patios with alcohol service. The Province remains responsible for certain aspects of enforcement in regard to food and liquor inspections. And today, Government Street was transformed into a pedestrian priority zone from Humboldt Street to Yates Street.

Council has approved a new Everyday Creativity Grant Program to increase access for everyone to be creative and enjoy the arts. A total of $125,000 is available and grants would encourage applicants to provide new creative programs to engage citizens in the arts and encourage broad participation and learning opportunities. Criteria and availability will be determined at a upcoming Council meeting.

Council also allocated an additional $100,000 to the current round of Strategic Plan Grants, as well as a $250,000 second round of Strategic Plan Grants to unleash the creativity of the community by encouraging them to bring forward project proposals for how the community can continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Council will review the proposals that have a specific focus on recovery and the deadline for submissions is July 15, 2020. An additional $100,000 was added to the My Great Neighbourhood COVID-19 grant stream that’s focused on community recovery and resiliency.

COVID-19 Recovery Virtual Town Hall

The community is invited to learn more about what’s planned and ask questions at the COVID-19 Recovery Virtual Town Hall on Tuesday, June 9 from 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m., which will be webcast live and live streamed on the City’s Facebook page.

We’re really proud of the work staff have done to be bold and ambitious to Build Back Victoria. We’re excited to share it with the community, so we ‘re hoping people join us and ask questions.

There are three ways to participate: 1) ask your question by emailing it in advance to engage@victoria.ca to have it read aloud, 2) Email engage@victoria.ca to pre-register to participate by phone, or 3) watch the Virtual Town Hall on the City’s Facebook page and ask your question live. The deadline to email the City is noon on Monday, June 8. All questions will be limited to one minute in length to enable the maximum number of people to participate. For more information, visit: www.victoria.ca/townhall.

 

 

Racism Has No Place in Our City or Our Country

Images from the #peoplelessprotest organized at Centennial Square by Victoria Youth of Colour.

The events of the last several days south of the border have sparked difficult and important conversations, as once again the systemic racism in American society is revealed. Racism does not stop at the border. These are also conversations we need to have here in Victoria. Racism has no place in our city or our country.

I acknowledge that many Indigenous people and people of colour in our community are hurting right now. For those of us with privilege, we need to step up as allies and condemn racism in all its forms.

Two former City of Victoria Youth Poet Laureates have taken a leadership role in our community over the past few days, organizing peaceful protests and a vigil for George Floyd. I’d like to thank them for their courage.

Condemning racism and building understanding requires more than words, it requires action. That’s why the City is:

  • Developing an Equity Framework
  • Taking an Indigenous-led approach to reconciliation through the City Family
  • Convening the Reconciliation Dialogues to build understanding and work towards decolonization
  • Undertaking a Welcoming City Project to ensure that City Hall and the City of Victoria are safe and welcoming to people from around the world
  • Actively working with communities of colour on issues that they have identified as important to them

We are all still learning. There is more work to do. We can all do better. And we must do better. Each of us must stand up and call out racism of any sort, anywhere, and anytime, each and every time we witness it. We must have those hard conversations. We must truly listen when people share their experiences of racism in Victoria. Victoria is not immune. And we must continue to act as a City Council, and as residents and business owners to take action against racism in our community, in all its forms.

TELUS Commits to Victoria, Plans “TELUS Ocean” – Office and Innovation Centre in Downtown

Screenshot 2020-06-02 16.26.15

Press conference announcing TELUS Ocean Innovation Centre in downtown Victoria.

Today we announced that TELUS Communications Inc. intends to bring the TELUS Ocean project to Victoria, as part of an acquisition of the “Apex” site, a parcel of City-owned land at 749‑767 Douglas Street, on the corner of Douglas and Humboldt Streets.

This marks the end of a long road and the beginning of a new journey. In early 2017, the City launched a competitive process for the Apex site. Of the six submissions received, the TELUS Ocean proposal scored highest. And now, as we turn our minds and efforts towards recovery and coming out of the quiet shutdown period, I am so thrilled to know that we can look forward to seeing a vibrant downtown well into the future.

The City’s main goal for this site was a major commercial development that would anchor the southern end of Douglas Street and advance one or more of the City’s key economic engines, such as technology and innovation, creating high-value jobs and diversifying the economy.

In addition to enhancing and animating the adjoining public plaza by Crystal Garden, the development is anticipated to create new opportunities for the Victoria Conference Centre and surrounding downtown businesses.

The fact that TELUS – B.C.’s largest private sector employer – is making such a big investment in downtown Victoria is a strong sign of our recovery and is terrific news. It will help ensure that downtown will remain the economic and commercial heart of the region.

TELUS Ocean helps immediately deliver on Victoria 3.0, recently adopted by Council. This is our City’s recovery, reinvention and resilience plan that will bring high value jobs, a future focus, and a highlight on Victoria’s ocean economy to our downtown core.

TELUS has agreed to purchase the property from the City of Victoria for a price of $8.1 million, plus up to an additional $1.1 million purchase price adjustment depending on the final proposal submitted and approved as part of the rezoning process. TELUS and the City of Victoria will share in the environmental and geotechnical costs to remediate the site, with the City contributing $2.37 million towards its portion of these costs. In exchange for the City’s contribution, TELUS will assume all liability and responsibility for the environmental remediation of the site.

The proceeds from the sale will go into a reserve fund that can be used to advance some of the City’s other priorities including acquiring land for affordable housing, like the site we recently purchased on Pandora. The significant and ongoing annual property tax revenue from the new development can be used to fund amenities and public space improvements in the downtown, which downtown residents have been requesting for some time.

So in addition to the obvious economic benefits in terms of job creation and new space for innovation, the ongoing property tax revenue is a key part of the value proposition that Council considered when deciding to sell this piece of land.

The proposed commercial office and retail building will become TELUS’s regional headquarters for approximately 250 employees and home to an innovation hub that will showcase advanced communications and information technology. As a leading international employer, the ability to secure TELUS’s regional headquarters and innovation centre in the downtown core will also help support the growth of family sustaining jobs in Victoria.

TELUS’s operations will occupy a significant portion of the building, with the remainder of the space proposed for commercial office, retail and restaurants, as well as programmed events and gatherings.

TELUS is working with Victoria-based Aryze Developments as a community development partner. The Aryze project team will lead the project architect and consultant teams, and ensure the initiative progresses in alignment with the shared goals of the community and TELUS, as well as the City of Victoria’s goals reflected in its competitive proposal process.

Together, TELUS and Aryze are seeking to bring forward an architecturally-significant project; one that will create an opportunity for Victoria to be at the forefront of new technology and contribute to the social and entrepreneurial fabric of the city. To ensure this, the TELUS/Aryze project team is proposing to employ a multi-channel consultation approach to communications and engagement to reach a broad range of participants, including surrounding businesses, residents, potential future occupants and other key stakeholders.  It is anticipated that this community engagement process will begin in late June 2020.

We’re happy to be working with TELUS and thrilled that they believe so strongly – as I do – in the future of downtown Victoria.

The media release with further details can be found here.

 

 

 

 

City of Victoria Supports Businesses in Restart and Reopening

Facebook live address, Friday May 22nd. We’ll be back Friday May 29th at 1pm.

This week, the Province initiated Phase Two of their recovery plan and coffee shops, boutique retailers, and shopping centres around Victoria have started the process of reopening to the public. The City has been collaborating with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Think Local Victoria, Community Micro-Lending and other business leaders to create a toolkit to support businesses reopen safely.

The toolkit helps highlight businesses that are practicing physical distancing, taking hygienic measures, and exercising the necessary precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The toolkit includes:

  • Occupancy signage to communicate the number of customers businesses are allowing inside at one time
  • A checklist of COVID-related measures expected of customers and being followed by employees
  • Design files – that can be taken to many local printers for easy production and use – for poster or floor stickers that businesses can use to mark out places for people to stand with appropriate social distancing

We know businesses have a lot to worry about without thinking about the little things. We’re taking care of the little things so businesses can stay focused on getting their operations up and running smoothly.

“The items in this new toolkit will help provide some certainty for customers visiting businesses that have reopened downtown,” said DVBA Executive Director Jeff Bray. “The occupancy signage, COVID checklist and floor stickers will give people confidence the businesses they’re visiting are committed to providing a safe shopping experience.”

To download the new business toolkit visit the City’s COVID-19 Business Resource page.

In another move to support local business owners, Council recently brought forward several creative motions aimed at reopening businesses safely, including the use of public spaces for restaurants and retailers. These proposed measures and interventions are being reviewed by staff and will be presented to Council as concrete actions on June 4 for consideration and adoption.

In addition to these initiatives, over the past four weeks, the City has been promoting campaigns focused on how local businesses can receive support from generous groups within our community, as well as encouraging residents to shop local whenever possible. The #yyjBizSupport campaign connects local business owners with resources to obtain a loan or get help building a website and the #ShopYYJ campaign encourages Victoria residents to support their favourite restaurants and retailers.

All of these initiatives – from the new toolkit, to laying the groundwork for businesses to use public spaces, to campaigns aimed at supporting our local businesses – are important steps the City is taking towards reopening and recovering in a way that gets us all back to work safely.

In other City news this week, Victoria is partnering with BC Hydro to install an electric vehicle (EV) DC fast charger station with two chargers at the south end of Store Street, between Johnson and Pandora, near the Johnson Street Bridge. DC fast chargers can rapidly charge most EVs to 80 per cent capacity within 30 minutes. The charger is expected to be ready for public use by the end of 2020 and will be the first DC fast charger in Victoria.

By making charging faster and easier, we hope more residents will choose EVs over combustion engines. This charger supports the City’s Climate Leadership Plan target of renewable energy powering 30 percent of passenger vehicles registered in Victoria by 2030 and 100 per cent of passenger vehicles are renewably powered by 2050.

News from the community

June 1 is Intergenerational Day – a celebration of the mutual benefits of building relationships across generations, and 2020 marks the 10th Anniversary of Intergenerational Day in Canada! Now more than ever, we need ways to connect. We need to celebrate. Just because we can’t be physically together in the same way doesn’t mean we can’t be connected.

The Intergenerational Society let us know that they are building a virtual national quilt! They want to know: “What do intergenerational friendships mean to you?” They would like you to send in an an email high resolution drawings, photos, and inspirational notes to igday2020@gmail.com by Sunday, May 24th. I’m late in posting this so hopefully they’ll let a few last photos slip in after the deadline!

The IG Day Quilt will be showcased and celebrated across Canada on Intergenerational Day, Monday, June 1st 2020. Find out more at here.

And much further afield, the Victoria Athletic Football Club, located in Belfast, wrote to me this week to let me know about a virtual journey they are undertaking from their Victoria to our Victoria. The journey might be virtual, but the hard work isn’t. Victoria FC members are collectively running, walking, and cycling 4444 miles – the distance from Belfast to Victoria – all to raise money for PIPS charity, which provides support to individuals who are considering, or who have at some point considered, ending their own lives. PIPS also provide support to those families and friends who have been touched by suicide.

Victoria FC, we are cheering you on all the way, and maybe one day you can visit – the first pint is on me.

City of Victoria Takes Steps Towards Recovery

Facebook Live address. Friday May 15. We’ll be back next Friday, May 22 at 2pm on the City’s Facebook page, here.

I’d like to recognize that Sunday, May 17 marks International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the discrimination, harassment, and violence members of the LGBTQ2+ community still face to this day. The City of Victoria is committed to supporting community projects and programs that benefit the health, wellbeing, and inclusivity of the LGBTQ2+ community, and will continue to work with the members of this community to ensure that their feedback and perspective are represented in City policies, events, and programs.

Update: This evening as I was walking to the Fernwood Inn to pick up take out, someone yelled, “Dyke!” And they didn’t mean it as a compliment! It was a not so subtle reminder than even in our progressive city, there is work to do on discrimination.

News from the federal government

Today the federal government announced that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be extended to the end of August. This program is for employers whose business has been affected by COVID-19. The subsidy enables employers to re-hire workers previously laid off as a result of COVID-19, help prevent further job losses, and better position companies to resume normal operations following the crisis. With recovery on the horizon here in Victoria, this is really good news for our businesses.

Today the federal government also opened applications for the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit. Students impacted by COVID-19 can apply online here.

News from the provincial government

Today the provincial government announced that on June 1st students will have the option to return to classroom instruction part-time. For kindergarten to Grade 5, this means most students will go to school half time (such as alternating days), while grades 6 to 12 will go to school about one day a week. There will be strict provincial health officer and WorkSafeBC health and safety measures put in place. Schools and school districts will be in touch with parents and students, but all of the provincial guidelines can be found at here.

News from the City

Youth bus passes

Transit has been free during the COVID-19 pandemic; with driver safety measures in place, fares are returning as of June 1st. This is why City of Victoria staff have created an online option for youth in Victoria to get their free monthly bus passes. Starting today, youth 18 and under living in the City of Victoria can apply online to receive their free monthly transit pass. The platform allows youth or their parents to provide the necessary information online, without having to visit City Hall. Transit passes for June, July and August will then be mailed directly to homes.

The goal of our Free Youth Transit program, the first of its kind in the province, is to encourage low-carbon, affordable transportation. But more importantly it’s to create lifelong transit riders which will lead to fewer vehicles on our roads and less traffic congestion.

I’m excited to see this valuable program moving forward in a way that keeps residents and staff safe. This is one COVID-19 innovation that will likely stick. It means no more long lines ups at City Hall even in the future when City Hall re-opens. And it means more youth may take us up on the free transit pass. It’s easy, fast a few clicks – and boom – you’ve got your passes.

So whether you’re a new or returning young transit rider, Victoria youth, their parents and/or guardians can visit head here to register online. If for some reason, internet doesn’t work for you, there’s a phone number to call.

Roll-up of recovery motions passed

Yesterday Council took bold action to assist residents and businesses through the recovery period. Really cheap parking downtown will remain in place for now, to make it inviting for people who drive to come back downtown to support our great local businesses. Staff will start working right away on options for restaurants and retailers to operate in public space – there are some really creative ideas coming forward! The arts and culture sector, which has been really hard hit, will benefit from a new grant stream as well as getting Create Victoria, our fantastic and award winning arts and culture plan, back on track as a key recovery strategy.

Neighbours will be able to apply for My Great Neighbourhood grants starting in June with a key focus on recovery and resilience. There’s also funding for other events and placemaking activities that can bring people together … but not too close.

Space for pedestrians and Beacon Hill Park

There was a lot of buzz around some of these motions, and I wanted to talk about one in particular, a motion brought by myself and Councillor Loveday to Increase Physical Distancing for Pedestrians in Public Space. Here’s the full text of the motion that passed. I’m sharing it here so that it’s very clear what it intended.

  1. That Council direct staff to keep the physical distancing measures in place in village centres and other locations and report back to council with to further opportunities to allocate additional spaces for people to walk and roll safely in village centres and downtown in order to proactively prepare for increased pedestrian traffic as people begin to leave their homes.
  2. Direct staff to pedestrianize Beacon Hill Park while opening parking lots at Heywood Rd, Circle Drive, and Nursery Rd. and the roads that serve as their closest access points for the duration of summer. Further that Council direct staff to seek input from accessibility organizations including the AWG if that body is available, and report back with that advice, and all other input received so council can consider whether to further extend the pedestrianized approach to the park.

What this means is that people who need to drive can still park in Beacon Hill Park, but that there will also be more space for everyone to enjoy the park in this new world of physical distancing. We’ll also be evaluating this program at the end of the summer to see how it’s working.

News from the community

Usually in May many of us look forward to and participate in Bike to Work Week. Well, this year of course looks different, with many people working at home, and large gatherings not possible. This year, the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition and the Bike to Work Society are partnering to put on a series of Neighbourhood Scavenger Hunts from May to August. These scavenger hunts are designed for all ages – you’ll be asked to take a bike ride to explore clues and then submit a story, photo, or video.

With every submission, participants will be entered into a draw for a chance to win a gift card for take-out food from a local restaurant or bike shop. There are still a couple of days to participate in the Fernwood challenge. It closes on May 18th, and another neighbourhood will then follow. This is such a fun, creative way of doing things differently. Thanks to the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition and the Bike to Work Society for coming up with this.

Plus, we all heard yesterday from Dr. Bonnie Henry about importance of safe active transportation – she said, walk, bike or run to work, so for those still working and able to do so, please Dr. Henry’s advice.

Finally, it’s Victoria Day on Monday. There won’t be the annual Victoria Day Parade but the Victoria Festivals Society is broadcasting a virtual Victoria day event. You can catch it on CHEK TV starting at 9am on Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Council considers recovery actions for business and residents

City COVID-19 Update, May 12 2020

I apologize for not posting Friday’s Facebook live address here. If you missed it and you want to catch up, you can view it here on the City’s Facebook page.

Today is International Nurses Day. More than ever, I know we are all so keenly aware of the amazing work that nurses do in our community. I hope at 7pm today – for those who are still out there cheering – we gave an extra loud shout out to the nurses in our community. To all of the nurses working hard out there, thank you, on behalf of myself and council, for all that you do.

News from the federal government

Today, the Prime Minister announced additional supports for seniors. Old Age Security recipients will receive a one-time payment of $300. Guaranteed Income Supplement recipients will receive a one-time payment of $200, and some people will get both payments.

There were also be $20 million in additional funding for the New Horizons for Seniors Program to support organizations that offer community-based projects that reduce isolation, improve the quality of life of seniors, and help them maintain a social support network. We hope that some of this funding flow to our amazing senior’s centres here in the City of Victoria who do such great work keeping seniors connected.

News from the City

Youth Poet Laureate

The City of Victoria’s Youth Poet Laureate, Neko Smart, is looking for artists to participate in a new workshop series called Youth Verses. Youth Verses is a series of FREE virtual workshops for youth aged 14 to 19 who identify as visual and performance artists to take part in conversations about harnessing creativity while navigating mental illness.

Facilitated by Neko, these workshops will take place in a collaborative and safe space, where teenagers will feel supported and inspired to create art without judgement. At the end of the series, participants will get the chance to publicly display the art they’ve created in a virtual showcase.

For more information and to apply, you can head here. Applications are due by Monday, May 25 at 4 p.m. If you have any questions, please email culture@victoria.ca.


Council

This Thursday at Committee of the Whole we’ll be discussing what COVID-19 recovery could look like in the City of Victoria. Council members have brought their ideas, along with staff reports on creative ways the City can look at doing things differently in our new normal. You can read all the reports here on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.

Staff will be bringing us new options for holding public hearings and adapting the My Great Neighbourhood grants program – staff are proposing a new category for recovery and resilience. And staff will also be reporting back to council on what the City is already doing to support small business, arts and culture, and the visitor economy.

Myself and council are bringing forward proposals including a new economic action plan for the city, Victoria 3.0, support for allowing restaurants, cafes, and retailers to expand into public spaces, grants specific to the arts community and grants specific to COVID-19 recovery projects, and increasing physical distancing space for pedestrians in public spaces throughout the city.

They include extending parking fee reductions downtown through the summer and being more flexible with our commercial loading zones, expediting housing security actions in the City’s Housing Strategy, looking at food security options for renters, identifying priority capital projects so we are ready for federal and provincial stimulus funding, advocacy for increased sheltering options, supporting the travel and tourism industry,  and endorsement of a community recovery plan.

If you’re interested in watching Council’s debate You can tune in to our livestream at 9am on Thursday. I’m really excited to see some of these ideas come to life quickly to support residents and our small businesses during the recovery period.

News from the community

Exciting news today from The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria: The Art Gallery will re-open their doors to the public on May 19th. And, to offer the public an opportunity to spend time with  art and to celebrate the re-opening, the gallery will be offering free admission to all visitors until July 5, 2020. That’s amazing!

Visitors to the re-opened AGGV will now find the two largest galleries hung with works from their collection – one space focused on historical artworks, the other on contemporary. During their closure, the art gallery has offered a wide range of virtual programming to engage the public. Many of these virtual programs, including the nationwide on-line program FieldTrip.art will remain in place.

The gallery will be following policies and procedures for re-opening put into place by WorksafeBC, the Provincial Health Officer and the Province of British Columbia. Thanks to the Art Gallery for taking a lead in re-opening we know that our other arts and cultural institutions are also turning minds to this and will hopefully be open soon as some of these restrictions start to lift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you Victorians for all the work you’ve done to flatten the curve and care for each other

For those who want to stay up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me Mondays and Fridays on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 2:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. This video is my address from Monday. 

For those who have been tuning in since I began live addresses five weeks ago, you’ll know that I’ve opened by thanking different departments in the City for the creative ways they’ve been carrying on with the business of the City in challenging times. We’ve now made it through every department of the City.

So today, I want to say thank you to you, all of our City of Victoria residents. Together we’ve flattened the curve and – according to all signals coming from the provincial government – will soon be able to live a bit more freely and easily, albeit with lots of measures in place to keep us safe. Thanks for physical distancing. For staying at home. For washing your hands! Thanks for supporting our local businesses whether by ordering takeout, buying gift cards at SupportLocalYYJ for shopping online as our local businesses work hard to digitize.

Thanks for helping your neighbours, running errands for those who need that, and for checking in on each other. Thanks for your generous donations to the Rapid Relief Fund and Boxes of Hope too. These are both making big differences in the lives of people who are struggling right now. A heartfelt thank you to all of you, for all that you have done, are doing, and will continue to do as we walk forward together on this unknown journey.

News from the Province

On Friday, the provincial government announced new guidance for cities to hold public hearings electronically. As you may know, local governments are required to hold public hearings for some housing and other building projects so that Council can hear from the public before making a decision.

Many rental and affordable rental buildings are ready – or close to ready for a public hearing – and we are excited to keep things moving. This new order enables local governments to use creative ways to allow people to participate without having to come to City Hall in person.  With a rental and affordable housing crisis still on our hands, housing projects are critically important. Building them also keeps people working, putting money in people’s pockets that they can spend to support our small business community. This is a major step forward in keeping our economy moving and looking to recovery.

News from the City

Traffic Changes

City staff are continuing to create physical distancing zones across the City. These zones target pinch-points in sidewalks and provide a safe space for people when they are out getting fresh air or when picking up important items. Starting this week in Hillside-Quadra, the City will be temporarily restricting on-street parking on Fifth Street, between Hillside and Kings next to the Quadra Village Shopping Centre to create more room for pedestrians. Next week, temporary measures will be installed around the Fairfield Shopping Plaza along St. Charles Street.

The two new zones will be defined with bollards, signs and paint markings to make them easy to locate. Staff are delivering letters to all residents and businesses along the affected areas to make them aware of the temporary measures and to thank them for their cooperation. The City is also working with the neighbourhood associations to help notify residents.

Reconciliation Dialogues

The fifth session of our Reconciliation Dialogues series was due to be held tonight. Needless to say, the event has been postponed. We hope we can bring the series back at some point. It’s been very well attended and the sessions we have held have engaged and educated all of us in important ways. The first four dialogues are online here and you can watch them if you missed them, or if you’d like to see them again.

Recovery and Reinvention

We need to find our way forward in a post-COVID world. To get the ball rolling, I’ve asked Council to submit reports for our May 14th Committee of the Whole meeting that propose ideas for recovery. We know the Province has been talking about easing restrictions. We also know that this time has been difficult for many, and we’ve all had to adapt. I’d like Council and staff to think about changes we’ve made and lessons learned from the pandemic and what we need to do going forward to continue high quality of life and well-being for our residents and to ensure that our businesses can re-open successfully.

News from the community

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. We know that at this time with so many people out of work and struggling financially, giving is really difficult. This call to action is coming from the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. He says any act of generosity counts. Financial donations, acts of kindness, volunteering, posting colourful art and chalk drawings around your neighbourhood. There is no wrong way to give.

So tomorrow, use #givingtuesdaynow and share your acts of generosity to inspire others.