Our Place, New Roads Therapeutic Recovery Community, View Royal

Hello everyone,

Thanks for writing to me this past week. As I’ve been doing for the past few weeks, I read all of your emails, and then, because there are many, I’ve been responding to everyone all together so you can all hear directly from me, and so that you can hear each other’s concerns as well. If you’d like to keep up to date and continue to receive updates, please sign up here (upper right hand side of the page).

Many of you have written this week from areas around the city near parks where people are sheltering and other places where people may be sheltering soon. You’ve expressed worry about people without homes moving in and have asked whether we can ban camping in the parks near your homes. There are 12 parks that have been identified as better than others for sheltering because they have running water and washrooms. There are also other parks where camping is allowed but that don’t have these services. There is a smaller list of parks when sheltering is prohibited. At this point, Council is not considering adding any other parks to the list of parks that are prohibited, even though we understand that there are no parks that are good for sheltering.

Others of you have written from places where people are already sheltering and expressed concerns about the situation. You’ve all pointed out that our parks are in neighbourhoods, with families and seniors and that these are not good places for people to live. I agree wholeheartedly. Especially in a global health pandemic when kids need places to play, seniors need places to walk, and people need safe indoor spaces to live. What a difficult situation we are all in.

What is hopefully starting to become clear over the election campaign that we now find ourselves in, is that this is a problem that exists in parks in urban areas across the province. This Globe and Mail article outlines the issue well. Please take the time to read it. It’s about more than just homelessness, there is also a growing conversation and concern for people who have mental health and addictions challenges and who need health care. They are being left on the streets and in our parks with untreated health conditions and it’s not good for anyone.

That’s why, this past week myself and 12 other mayors across the province representing close to 2.8 million people in British Columbia released our Blueprint for British Columbia’s Urban Future. I’ve attached share the whole Blueprint for you. There is one portion that responds directly to the emails you all wrote to me this past week, and to the hundreds of emails we’ve received since the pandemic began.

Mental Health, Substance Use and Treatment
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an unprecedented escalation in the challenges facing our communities stemming from the mental health and substance use crises. Too many of our residents are suffering from mental health and substance use issues and, increasingly, brain injury.

These crises existed before COVID-19, but have been exacerbated by a toxic drug supply, the increased level of pandemic-related homelessness and encampments, and increasing stigma and anger from some members of our communities. Our businesses – which are already struggling from the economic impacts of COVID-19 – are facing increased break-ins and other challenges, as a result of higher rates of social disorder and unpredictable, sometimes violent behaviour from people in crisis.

We call on all parties to commit to:

1. Immediately expand the availability of the full range of substance use and mental health treatment and recovery options in our communities for both youth and adults, including appropriate facilities for those with complex needs. We need treatment on demand so people get it when they need it. We need action in months, not years.

2. Make the recent public health order regarding expanding the number of health professionals authorized to prescribe safer pharmaceutical alternatives to the toxic drug supply permanent and urge all relevant regulatory colleges to scale up access to safer pharmaceutical alternatives for people at risk across B.C.

3. While reviewing changes to the Police Act, consider alternative approaches for responding to mental health and substance use calls in the community on a 24/7 basis.

Please help us by taking up these calls to action and by voting for the candidates and the party that you think can best help to deliver these things. We all love Pemberton Park, Hollywood Park, Central Park, Beacon Hill Park, all our parks we want them to be available for everyone especially kids and seniors. And we want our un-housed neighbours, and our neighbours who need medical help to get it. This is Canada after all.

I want to address a few other things I’ve heard this week in your emails and this has to do with city staff and how they are working with people who are living without homes. Some of you have expressed concerns that we are taking too long to express the new bylaws. Others of you have said that you don’t feel that city staff are directly engaged enough with people living outside. And some of you have said that the approach city staff are taking are balanced and humane. There was a really good article in the Times Colonist today that captures the City’s approach to bylaw enforcement. Please take the time to read it here. And please share it with others.

For example, there are currently 117 tents in Central Park and there are only – according to the new bylaws – supposed to be approximately 21 tents. This means that a lot of people are going to need to move to other parks, where there is currently no one sheltering. Bylaw staff and parks staff have been working closely with the people living in the park as well as with the North Park Neighbourhood Association to ensure that the transition to new parks is safe, orderly and that when people arrive in the new sites, they are adhering to the new bylaws. This is difficult, painstaking work for everyone.

City staff working on the front lines deserve an incredible amount of thanks for the hard work they are doing helping to manage a homelessness, mental health and addictions crisis in the middle of a global health pandemic. They are on the frontlines with the outreach workers. They are also the ones who respond to call after call for areas to be cleaned, needles to be picked up, disputes to be resolved. I am deeply grateful to them for their work. As you’re walking through a park, or noticing some of our hard working parks, public works and bylaw staff out there in other places around the city, I’d love if you would take the time to stop and say thank you to them. Our parks and bylaw staff are not experts at managing mental health, addictions and homelessness. But they get up every day and come to work to do their regular jobs, and then some, in very challenging circumstances.

I’ll end by reminding myself and all of you too what I reminded the Times Colonist interviewer – that the goal is not to move people from park to park. The goal is to return parks to spaces for everyone by getting our most vulnerable neighbours inside. That’s why we’re working really hard with Island Health, BC Housing and others every day to make this happen.

I won’t outline the Community Wellness Alliance Decampment Working Group here, a weekly meeting which I chair. You can go to previous Sunday emails here and read more about that process. But I can report that at this past week five more people moved inside, two to Our Place’s Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal, and three via Island Health. That’s 15 people moved inside since we began tracking on September 4th. At Friday’s meeting, BC Housing also reported that they now have close to 60 applications from people currently living in supportive housing who can move into Regional Housing First units or private market units later this fall, freeing up space in supportive housing units and shelters for people currently living in parks. And we probably have close to 75% of people who are living outside with housing applications filled out. Work continues in earnest to ensure that the other 25% also get applications in. People want to move inside.

I’ll sign off as always with gratitude for your thoughtful and creative solutions that some of you have sent this past week, along with your queries and your frustration. More than one person has suggested tiny home villages and I’ve passed this along to BC Housing. Someone suggested currently unused agricultural lands on the peninsula could be used for temporary tenting areas. That one we’ll have to leave to those municipalities. Someone else suggested this week that the Bay Street Armoury could potentially be used for a winter shelter. I’ll pass this idea along as well. The reality for the next month or so – until we get a new government in place – is that no new funding announcements will be made, new programs started or new shelters opened, but I’ll keep passing these good ideas along for when we have a new government. And do ask candidates who call you or come to your door what role they will play in addressing the homelessness, mental health and addictions crisis that we are all facing, together.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

“It may be the end of the world as we know it, but other worlds are possible.” – Anab Jain, Calling for More-Than-Human Politics

BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus
2020 Blueprint for B.C.’s Urban Future


COVID’s Impact on B.C.’s Urban Areas
British Columbia’s urban areas are facing unique challenges in this pandemic, and we want to ensure the next provincial legislature is ready to work in partnership with local governments to address the most pressing issues facing cities across B.C., as we recover from COVID-19.

Our urban communities are the province’s economic engines – home to key industries and their workers, medium- and high-density housing development opportunities, world-class healthcare facilities and post-secondary education institutions. This group of communities is diverse – from the south-western coast to the North, from the Fraser Valley to the Interior – but the vital economic role that each play, and the challenges we each face, are shared.

Our cities are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts, which have exacerbated existing challenges related to mental health and addictions, homelessness, and a lack of affordable housing. With vital support from the provincial and federal governments, cities have maintained critical services, such as public transit, but ongoing financial challenges put the long-term sustainability of these services at risk. In addition, we are in danger of falling behind on planning for infrastructure expansion economic development and climate change, as our respective populations continue to grow and British Columbia moves to rebuild post-pandemic.

Our Shared Proposal
In this election, we are asking all parties to commit to work with leaders in B.C.’s urban centres to address the issues we face today, while we plan for restored prosperity and growth when our communities eventually emerge from the pandemic. Moreover, putting our cities on the path to a strong recovery will support neighboring smaller and rural communities and B.C. as a whole.

This partnership will require ongoing investments in key areas such as housing, health and infrastructure. A strong recovery will also depend on the creation of a new fiscal relationship between provincial and municipal governments in this province – one that provides cities with sustainable, predictable and reliable funding tools, so that we can support inclusive, equitable urban economies well into the future.

2020 Blueprint for B.C.’s Urban Future

  1. Mental Health, Addictions and Treatment

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an unprecedented escalation in the challenges facing our communities stemming from the mental health and addiction crises. Too many of our residents are affected by mental health and addiction issues and, increasingly, brain injury.

These crises existed before COVID-19 but have been exacerbated by a toxic drug supply, the level of pandemic-related homelessness and encampments, and increasing stigma and anger from some members of our communities. Our businesses – already struggling from the economic impacts of COVID-19 – are facing increased break-ins and other challenges, as a result of increasing social disorder and unpredictable, sometimes violent behaviour from people in crisis.

We call on all parties to commit to:

  1. Immediately expand the availability of the full range of addictions and mental health treatment and recovery options in our communities for both youth and adults, including appropriate facilities for those with complex needs. We need treatment on demand so people get it when they need it. And we need action in months not years.
  2. Make permanent the recent public health order regarding expanding the number of health professionals authorized to prescribe safer pharmaceutical alternatives to the toxic drug supply and urge all relevant regulatory colleges to scale up access to safer pharmaceutical alternatives for people at risk across B.C.
  3. During the Police Act Review, consider alternative approaches for responding to mental health and addictions calls in the community on a 24/7 basis.

2. Affordable Housing
BC Housing and the Province have made significant investments in affordable housing in our communities. Yet many residents still face stress and uncertainty related to housing affordability. Young families can’t afford to buy homes in some communities. Seniors living in market-rental units have pensions that can’t keep pace with rent increases. Low-wage workers are forced to commute long distances to access their jobs in our cities, severely impacting their quality of life. Too many of our vulnerable neighbours are looking for a path out of homelessness. And urban indigenous people are disproportionately represented in the homeless counts.
There is not enough housing in our communities that is affordable to the people who live and work in them. This is also causing economic fallout for businesses in terms of recruitment and retention of workers, reducing the overall productivity of our Province’s economy.

We call on all parties to commit to:

  1. Accelerate investments and simplify the funding application process to build new affordable housing and supportive and social housing on a priority basis.
  2. Ensure there is a regulatory and taxation climate that prioritizes housing for people who live and work in our cities, rather than housing as an investment.
  3. Ensure there is a rental housing system that balances the needs of security of tenure for renters with the needs of landlords.

3. Public Transit
Affordable, reliable and accessible public transit is critical to the future of our communities economically, socially and environmentally. Pre-COVID-19, ridership across the province was growing faster than anywhere in North America, as our residents increasingly turned to transit as a viable alternative to single occupancy vehicles.  
Although the pandemic has cut ridership by over 50 percent, and devastated the financial sustainability of TransLink, BC Transit and BC Ferries, this setback is temporary. For our cities to remain competitive with counterparts in the rest of Canada and the world in a post-pandemic economy, we must keep building transit-friendly communities that continuously invest in high quality transit that reduces road congestion and GHG emissions, keeps our goods moving efficiently on limited road space, and offers an affordable transportation mode to all residents, especially those without other options.

We call on all parties to commit to:

  1. Complete the financial recovery of the projected long-term loses facing TransLink, BC Transit and BC Ferries, once the recently announced Safe Restart operating funding expires in late-2021, so that service levels are maintained throughout the pandemic and the recovery period, and ridership can be quickly rebuilt.
  2. Redesign the transit funding model that has relied too heavily on regressive transit fares and local property taxes to one that is more resilient and equitable.
  3. Prepare for a quick return to the post-pandemic transit expansion our cities will need to maintain competitiveness by ensuring that current planning processes are not paused due to the pandemic. Modest investments in planning studies and business case development now will ensure future service expansion and capital investments are ready to go in the rebuilding stage.
  4. Make the investments required over the coming decade to support BC Transit and TransLink’s ambitious low-carbon fleet plans

4. A New Fiscal Relationship
COVID-19 has made abundantly clear that the fiscal framework set up in 1867 – which sees local governments in Canada reliant primarily on property taxes – is wholly inadequate to meet the challenges and opportunities of cities in the 21st century. As city leaders, we have been on the front lines responding to COVID-19 without the resources to provide the services needed to keep our most vulnerable residents healthy and safe, and at the same time, offer additional supports to the businesses and neighbourhoods most impacted by the pandemic-driven challenges.

Respecting Canada’s constitutional framework where cities are “creatures of the provinces” doesn’t mean we can’t innovate within it. We must, or we put at risk the opportunity of creating inclusive, equitable urban economies, good jobs and sustainable communities.

We call on all parties to commit to:

  1. Convene an implementation committee comprised of local and provincial government officials to revisit and implement relevant recommendations in the Union of B.C. Municipalities report, Strong Fiscal Futures: A Blueprint for Strengthening BC Local Government’s Finance System.
  2. Pursue municipal finance reform to provide municipalities with a broader range of sustainable, predictable and reliable funding tools in order to address increasing financial pressures related to a growing asset base, aging infrastructure, climate change, housing challenges and the opioid crisis.


BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus
The BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus is an informal, non-partisan group of mayors from urban areas across British Columbia.

We have come together in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and learned what we have shared challenges. We will continue to meet as a group to learn from and with each other, and to act as a unified voice on critical issues facing our communities as this pandemic evolves and rebuilding takes hold.

%d bloggers like this: