Press availability, media Q and A. Saturday April 25th.
I’d like to thank the Province for their announcement today and for working in partnership with the City to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In particular, it was was terrific to hear the approach taken by Ministers Farnworth, Simpson and Darcy this morning.
Minster Farnworth said, “We cannot leave our most vulnerable behind.” Minister Simpson said directly to the people living in the encampments, “We will do this with care and compassion, you will not be abandoned.” And Minister Darcy talked about the stigma associated with addiction and emphasized that the government is taking this action to keep people safe with the two public health emergencies that currently exist.
To these ministers, to the entire cabinet committee and to the Premier who brought them together, on behalf of myself and Council and all the residents of Victoria – housed and unhoused – I want to say thank you for using your powers under the Emergency Program Act and your resources to address this critical situation. I also want to say thank you to all of the City of Victoria staff who have been working hard with this Province this past week and who will continue their work in the weeks to come.
Between Topaz Park and Pandora Ave there are 360 people living outside. Today the Province committed to ensuring that each of these people are housed indoors. Minister Simpson also said, “We have no intention of putting these people back on the street when this pandemic is over.” I am grateful to the Province for their commitment to providing long-term housing.
We know there is still more work to do, there are more people who will need housing and supports in the weeks and months to come, and we will continue to work with the Province to help ensure that everyone’s needs can be met. The reason the Province is starting with Topaz Park and Pandora Ave is because – as we are all aware – there have been significant challenges to mitigating the health risks in these dense encampments.
In response to today’s order from Minister Farnworth that these sites be evacuated by May 9th, BC Housing is leading a plan to coordinate a move for those living on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park into more secure temporary housing, primarily in motel rooms. This fits with what Council has asked the Province to do and what is recommended by Island Health.
This important action will provide secure housing, enable appropriate physical distancing measures and improve access to hygiene facilities, healthcare and social supports. BC Housing is building on the work that has already begun. They are now rapidly deploying outreach workers, and frontline staff to work with the people living at the camps and as well as with onsite social service providers to implement a plan for both of these sites.
I want thank all the frontline workers who are working at these temporary sites while we’ve been waiting for sheltering indoor options and who will continue to work hard as people move indoors. It will take weeks to move everyone off of Pandora Avenue and out of Topaz Park, but the work is already underway. It’s going to take everyone working together to get our most vulnerable residents into indoor living situations with the help and support they need.
BC Housing has successfully moved people and closed encampments many times over in recent years and they will be applying that experience to ensure that the decampment of these two locations is done in a way that meets the needs of residents currently living there.
Working together with the Province we can create a community where everyone feels safe, where everyone’s needs are met, and where everybody can live well and can live well together.