Taking a Break from Twitter: The Stories We Tell About Our City Matter

Screenshot 2020-07-19 10.00.27

On Friday we announced the first step in the creation of the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub. This is one of the first actions in Victoria’s new economic plan, Victoria 3.0. The City is working together with the South Island Prosperity Partnership, the Association of British Columbia Marine Industries, Ocean Networks Canada, and companies large and small to create a future focused innovation hub in the downtown.

This is an exciting project! It will create jobs and a more resilient diverse economy coming out of the pandemic. It’s industry led and City supported. It’s a really good news story for our city and our region.

And, we got pretty good media coverage from a wide variety of media outlets in the region after we sent out the press release on Friday. Happy to see the results of our collective efforts so well received and positively profiled, I pinned one of the news stories to my Twitter profile.

As soon as I had posted, a whole bunch of comments about homelessness and tenting came into the feed. And comments on my performance as mayor.

On Saturday morning, I posted this picture to Twitter with thanks to the folks at Aryze who – using a tactical urbanism and placemaking approach – created this beautiful and functional piece of installation art in the Gorge Waterway. They installed it near the much-loved community swimming hole off of Banfield Park in Victoria West. IMG_6863.jpeg

And again, the same response. People jumping into the Twitter feed with comments that were negative and focused on homelessness and tenting and me, and not at all related to the great community effort underway.

I can take criticism. You don’t sign up for a job like this if you can’t. But the reason I’ve deactivated my Twitter account, is that the stories we tell about our city matter. And the mayor’s Twitter feed tells a story.

I use Twitter to support business-led efforts to recover from the pandemic and look to the future, like the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub. I post to support citizen-led efforts to spruce up the harbour and create a sense of joy and place. I post to support Destination Greater Victoria and the Downtown Victoria Business Association whose member businesses are working so hard right now, some just to survive. And to profile all the amazing arts and culture events that are happening, despite the pandemic. And to support our local non-profit sector which is working so hard to support members of our community who may be struggling right now.

And when I post these things and people immediately pile on with negativity and comments that are irrelevant to the matter in the post, it does a real disservice to these business-led and citizen-led efforts. It creates an ongoing negative story about our city. And this shouldn’t be the only story, when so many people are working so hard every day to stay positive and to create positivity during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

There is a homelessness crisis right now, in the city and across the province and country, and its made worse by the pandemic. It’s having a negative effect on so many people, those who are homeless and those who are housed. We’re working hard every day to  manage the crisis and we’re working with the wonderful ministers and staff at the Province to resolve it, to get people housed with the supports they need.

But there is more to Victoria’s story. A recent article in Western Investor highlighted Victoria 3.0, which they called “an ambitious blueprint for sustained post-pandemic recovery.” The vision is that “Victoria is a future-ready, globally fluent influencer and innovator. We will use our status as a small powerhouse to create a strong and resilient economy that meets our needs now and anticipates the future.” After quoting our vision they wrote, “We are betting this is more than posturing: Victoria is for real and should be a leading light out of the pandemic darkness.”

And there’s Build Back Victoria, a program that has seen a surge in patios in the downtown and in village centres. It’s made-in-Victoria vibrancy that is business-led and City supported and is helping businesses to recover and hire back staff.

And there’s all the amazing stuff happening in the local arts and culture sector – another key element of Victoria’s story. Throughout the pandemic our Arts, Culture and Events team at the City have been working hard with the arts and culture community so they can continue to do the great work they do. We need arts, culture and everyday creativity more than ever. There’s an inspiring array of events and activities here.

So I’m taking a break from Twitter to give all these community efforts the opportunity to shine, without detraction on my Twitter feed. I’ll be back at some point when the time feels right. To those who are still on social media, I’d like to encourage you to use it to make someone’s day, to share joy and kindness because goodness knows, this is what the world needs right now.

For those who need me, there are still lots of ways to say in touch! You can email mayor@victoria.ca, phone or text at 250-661-2708, speak with Council directly, or come to one of my Community Drop Ins, which have gone virtual during the pandemic.

 

 

 

City Seeks Injunction to Protect Sensitive Ecosystems While Respecting Human Rights of People Living Without Homes

Here is the our COVID-19 update from Friday July 10th as well as an announcement about Beacon Hill Park. The Beacon Hill Park coverage starts at 7:16.

We are not health care providers or professionals. We are not housing providers. So, when shelters closed or cut their numbers to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, and when people couch surfing had to leave because of no-guest policies, the City sought out the best advice on how we could help the hundreds of people left to sleep outside.

And the best advice from health care professionals was to allow individuals to shelter in place, in a tent if needed, until housing options can be found for them.  Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recently reaffirmed this direction.

And we intend to continue to be compassionate and to respect the human rights of those that are without homes during a pandemic. We are aware that individuals have been seeking temporary shelter in Beacon Hill Park. The park contains approximately 50 acres of land which is available for temporary sheltering. It also contains 93 acres of land which is either environmentally sensitive or culturally significant to First Nations peoples.

The environmentally sensitive areas of the park contain a number of distinct and fragile ecosystems which the City has worked hard to protect and maintain. Rare and endangered plants have been documented as experiencing significant damage from people sheltering in these areas. The Garry oak ecosystems in Beacon Hill Park are part of a protected and endangered natural system, which less than 5% remains in B.C. Protecting these areas is critical to maintaining biodiversity in the city, which is key in light of climate change.

That’s why today I announced that the City of Victoria has applied to B.C. Supreme Court for a court order to require people to move from the environmentally sensitive areas of the park so that we can protect these areas them from further damage. The City’s application does not ask the Court to stop people from sheltering in Beacon Hill Park, or any other city parks; it requests that people move from the areas with sensitive ecosystems.

City staff along with community outreach workers have been meeting regularly for weeks with people sheltering in Beacon Hill Park, requesting that they move to less sensitive areas of the park. Staff and outreach workers will continue to meet daily with people sheltering in the park to assist them with moving to appropriate areas and to connect them with provincial housing supports and health services. Many people have already relocated and the City expects everyone to move willingly.

I know there are many residents who feel no one should be camping in Beacon Hill Park.
I hear those concerns. And I too am concerned that there are people sleeping in our parks. I wish that we had a magic wand and could fix the problem.

But there are no magic wands. Homelessness is a complex issue that has been caused over many years and exacerbated by the pandemic. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The first round of homelessness, as noted above, was created when shelters reduced their number and people living precariously already moved. I expect that as government subsidies are removed and some people can’t pay their rent, we will see another wave of pandemic-related homelessness.

We are not alone here in Victoria, there are 40 encampments across the province with between 1000 and 1200 people living in them. Unfortunately, until there are housing solutions, individuals who do not have a home, or a place where they can stay, require a place to shelter.

Previous court decisions have recognized the right of people who are experiencing homelessness to shelter in municipal parks if there is not enough shelter space or affordable housing available.

To those sheltering, I want to say that no one is being forced to leave the park, but we do expect that you will relocate to one of the many less environmentally fragile areas and that you will keep your site as clean as possible, recognizing that you are sharing the park with other members of the public.

To others using the park who are not sheltering there, I do have one specific request: please don’t take pictures of people who are sheltering, or their sites. This causes unnecessary friction. I had one man call my office last week who said he is living in the park, would rather not be, and could the mayor ask people to stop taking pictures. So I’m asking on his behalf. Rest assured that our staff know where people are sheltering, as do service providers.

I biked through on Saturday and saw hundreds of people there The playgrounds were full, there were picnickers, strollers, bikers, people of all ages. It breaks my heart that there are residents that don’t feel safe in our jewel of a park. It also breaks my heart that there are people living outside during a pandemic.

Even though there are people who need to take shelter in the park, it is still a space for everyone. And it’s an opportunity for all of us – housed and unhoused – to share this community space together.

The temperature has hit a bit of a boiling point and there are fears on both so-called sides. We are all in this together, housed and un-housed. There can be no us and them in a strong and resilient community. And I believe that Victoria is a strong and resilient community.

We continue to work closely with the Province, BC Housing and Island Health, and we continue to advocate to the federal government to match the Province’s funding for motels and modular housing. A lot has been done already and we are grateful for that, but there is so much more need, here, and across the province and the country.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities that were hidden in our society. And we are seeing that the most vulnerable in our society are suffering the most, from our seniors in care homes, to low-income people, to people who are homeless.

This pandemic is far from over, as Dr. Henry has said recently. Cities across Canada are all struggling with the same challenges – with many implementing the same temporary fixes.  We may be opening up a bit, but let’s not forget that we were already facing both a housing and an opioid crisis, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded these already difficult challenges for this vulnerable group.

So while we work through these challenging times together, while we work through the next few months sharing the park -– housed and unhoused – let’s all remember Dr. Henry’s words: be kind, be calm, and be safe.

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID Safe Pedestrian Crossings Implemented at 25 Victoria Intersections

 

On Friday the Province launched the portal for the B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers. This is a one-time worker benefit that provides additional  support for those who aren’t working due to COVID-19. It’s a $1000 tax free benefit to those who are eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Visit here to find out if you’re eligible and to apply. What better day to launch this than on International Workers Day. A special thanks to all those who are working so hard right now, and especially to front line workers.

And on another note of Provincial news, we know that in this time of being at home more, there are people for whom home is difficult, and for some home is dangerous. This week, the province secured nearly 300 additional shelter spaces across British Columbia including some in Victoria for people leaving violent or unstable situations, with more spaces to come. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, please contact VictimLinkBC at 1-800-563-0808 or by email at VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca. Services are available 24/7 in various languages.

Here in Victoria too, a reminder that the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC) continues operations. They’re there to help and respond through the Sexual Assault Response Team. VSAC provides non-judgmental support and options. They respect your confidentiality and choice at each step. They are also offering a series of fireside chat videos about their work and how they are addressing the challenges of COVID-19. Visit them here to learn more about their services and supports.

News from the City

Pedestrian crossings

In response to COVID-19, the City has now automated pedestrian movements at 25 intersections near high-activity areas like grocery stores, pharmacies and also on greenways connecting parks and recreation centres. This means that much like in the downtown core, people walking and rolling no longer need to push the pedestrian signal button at these intersections in order to get a walk signal when the traffic light changes.

Staff have installed signs these intersections to advise people that the walk signal will come on automatically. Not only does this change help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but is also a benefit for accessibility for those with mobility challenges.

Garden Waste Drop Off

It’s the second week since reopening garden waste drop off and we intend to keep the service operating on Saturdays going forward. You can expect longer than normal and slower moving lines as we add in additional steps for physical distancing for the you and for our staff. The garden waste drop-off is available to residents of Victoria from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. every Saturday.

City staff will be present at the garden waste drop-off to direct traffic, but residents will need to unload their own garden waste. We’re glad to be able to bring back this much loved and high-in-demand service and to do so in a way that keeps you and our staff safe.

Kathryn Calder Performs Live

The City of Victoria’s Artist in Residence, Kathryn Calder, performed her second live stream concert last night. Missed it? Not to worry, you can find it here. The 40-minute solo set on the piano included some of Kathryn’s favourite songs written by others, including Kate Bush, Queen and Joni Mitchell and more.

Kathryn is a Victoria-based musician, songwriter/ recording artist and recording studio owner who was selected as the City’s Artist in Residence last year. For the past 15 years, she has been recording and touring as a vocalist/ keyboardist with indie rock group The New Pornographers. She has also released three solo records, five albums with Immaculate Machine, and one album with her latest project, Frontperson.

The Artist in Residence program aims to ‘keep art in mind’, providing the opportunity for a professional artist to work collaboratively with City staff and the community to identify and develop creative artwork projects to enhance city projects and public space. We are really lucky to have Kathryn with the City, and sharing her talent with us at this time.

News from the community

I wanted to let you know about some supports in our community for new Canadians.  Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS), with the support of the Rapid Relief Fund, is offering an Emergency Food Delivery Program for Immigrants and Refugees. If you are a Refugee or Immigrant who is in need of this support – or know someone who is – please contact VIRCS by phone: (250)361-9433 or by email at info@vircs.bc.ca. Thank you to VIRCS for ensuring no one is left behind.

I also wanted to let you know about the Inter-Cultural Association’s (ICA) homework help service!  Youth and Family Services Team is supporting students in high school and college. If you’d like help, give the ICA your subject, and they will match you to a volunteer. Contact: Nabeela, nramji@icavictoria.org and she’ll get you connected.

And finally – its Neighbour Day in this of Victoria this weekend. Although we’re all doing our part and staying apart, this doesn’t mean we can’t do something for and with our neighbours. We’re hearing wonderful stories of neighbours chipping in and running errands for each other. Or having front yard happy hours over the fence. And we read in the Victoria News that on Chamberlain Street, they’re singing together!

A Victoria Foundation survey found that Victorians only knew four neighbours well enough to ask a favour of them. Mabne a simple act for Sunday’s Neighbour – if your street doesn’t have anything planned – is just to say a friendly hello and introduce yourself to your neighbours you don’t yet know if you see them out and about.

Email us mayor@victoria.ca and send photos or videos of what you get up to on Sunday and we’ll share them on the City’s Facebook page or the City’s neigbhourhoods page.

#NovaScotiaRemembers and We Remember With You

For those who want to stay up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me daily 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 Friday. We’ll be back Monday at 2:30pm.

Tonight a virtual vigil took place in honour of the tragedy in Nova Scotia earlier this week. Put together by volunteers, the vigil featured community leaders, musicians, and others paying tribute to those who lost their lives and people in the whole province who are hurting so much right now.

The vigil, called Nova Scotia Remembers, was hosted through the Colchester Supporting our Communities Facebook group and was also broadcast widely on news networks. In case you missed it, you can catch it here.

One of the most moving moments of the vigil is when Nathalie MacMaster played a duet with a recorded performance by 17-year-old, Emily Tuck, who was one of the victims. You can watch that moving performance here.

News from the federal government

Today the Prime Minister announced that the federal government has reached an agreement in principle with all provinces and territories to implement the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small businesses. This program will lower rent by 75 per cent for small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. This is a measure that myself and Council and many community and business leaders have been pushing for, and I know so many small business owners are relieved to see this development.

Eligible small business tenants are businesses paying less than $50,000 per month in rent and who have temporarily ceased operations or have experienced at least a 70 per cent drop in pre-COVID-19 revenues. This support will also be available to non-profit and charitable organizations. We’ve been in touch with the federal government today to get more details about how this will work. We will share more information here as we receive it.

We have so many much-loved local businesses here in Victoria. That’s why our Business Hub has remained active throughout this pandemic providing up to date resources for businesses on our Business Hub COVID page.

News from the City

The City of Victoria’s Poet Laureate, John Barton, has brought together local poets Terry Ann Carter, Christine Walde, and Derk Wynand for a virtual reading, called “The Worldliness of Poetry.” Originally planned as a reading to celebrate National Poetry Month at the Greater Victoria Public Library, The Worldliness of Poetry live in person was cancelled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until it is possible to reschedule, John invited the three readers to share their work virtually through poems connected to Germany, Portugal, France, and Japan in order to momentarily transcend social distancing and self-isolation.

You can read and listen to the poems right here.

News from the community

We have an update on Think Local First’s SupportLocalYYJ program, supported by VanCity. As a reminder, this program is a central place where you can buy gift certificates to local business for future use.

It is free for businesses to participate. 157 businesses are now taking part, and SupportLocalYYJ is heading to $16,000 in gift certificate purchases. This money is going right into the pockets of local business owners. These gift certificates are anywhere from $10 to $100 and it is amazing the number of businesses that are inspired to keep going when they see the moral and financial support from our community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Government House Collaborates with City, Launches Victory Over COVID Gardens Project

For those who want to stay right up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me daily on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 2:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. We’re getting lots of emails with lots of questions and we’ll do our best to answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Wednesday. We’ll be back Thursday at 2:30pm.

We have learned today that during the COVID-19 pandemic, four people living on Victoria’s streets and in parks have died of overdoses. It is tragic that two public health emergencies have converged and these lives have been tragically lost. We offer our deep condolences to the friends, family and communities of the four people who have died. And we mourn with you.

News from the federal government

Today the Federal government announced the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, which will help students whose education and employment plans have been disrupted due to COVID. For those post secondary students who are eligible, there will be a $1250 monthly payment, available until the end of August, to make up for lost work. There will also be grants for students who will be spending the summer in volunteer roles.

Finally, the Prime Minister is allocating 76,000 additional summer jobs in essential services for students on top of Canada summer jobs program. This is really good news for all the students in our region who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

News from the City – Focusing on Earth Day

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day and there’s a lot going on right now, even in the middle of this pandemic that residents can participate in that’s good for quality of life and well being, and good for the planet.

Get Growing Victoria!

Earlier this month, Council directed staff to use the existing municipal nursery and greenhouses in Beacon Hill Park to grow vegetable plant starts for distribution in the community. Since then, the City, in partnership with the Urban Food Table, has procured 100,000 local seeds from Southern Vancouver Island farms and through the BC Eco Seed Co-op.

The City is partnering with community organizations and non-profits to distribute the starts later this spring to those who need them most, and we’ll have more information up on our website soon about how that will work.

The program has garnered a lot of interest from right here in BC and across the country. One of the first people to reach out to us following our announcement was the Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin. Her Honour and her staff were keen to learn more about what we were up to as they, too, were looking at ways to put their large gardens and volunteer gardeners to work to help those in need.

This conversation has blossomed into a productive collaboration between the City and Government House. The Lieutenant-Governor is offering the resources of Government House to provide practical support to those in need through, what they are calling, the Victory Over COVID Gardens Project.

They will promote food security and engage students and local volunteers in growing fresh vegetables for distribution to food banks and non-profit organizations serving vulnerable populations in Victoria. This initiative builds on the long-standing history of community gardening at Government House and expands on the current vegetable garden that has been operational for more than a decade.

I look forward to our continued collaboration on this unique opportunity to support Victorians during these challenging times.

 Trees In Cities

It’s wonderful to see how so many people have been inspired to work outside and grow all sort of things during this pandemic. The United Nations Trees in Cities Challenge is another way to do that. Victoria has pledged to plant 5,000 trees on public and private property in 2020, and you can be part of this meaningful global effort by taking the pledge on our website, planting a tree sometime this year, and entering it into the tree tracker.

You can plant a tree now or later, but take the pledge today, on Earth Day! City staff have checked in with local garden centres and nurseries, and most have trees available. I encourage you to phone ahead to see what local suppliers can offer. As part of the Trees in Cities total, today and tomorrow Parks staff are planting 33 trees in Banfield Park in Vic West.

I encourage you to check out the online Tree Tracker map to see where trees have been planted so far. Together, city staff and residents have only planted 274 trees. We have a long way to go! Join us; you can get involved here.

Feedback on vulnerable populations

I want to also address some concerns we’ve been hearing from community about temporary outdoor sheltering for people without homes. First, I want to assure everyoe that myself and council hear and understand the concerns of people living around the areas where people are camping, and also the concerns of people who are living outside. No one benefits from the current situation of people living outside in a public health pandemic

That’s why, City staff and council have been working with our partners, tirelessly, to put in place ways that people can follow guidelines around social distancing and staying at home when they don’t have a home to go to. This problem got worse – early on in the pandemic, five weeks ago now – when some shelters closed, and others reduced their capacity to meet social distancing requirements.

This meant that there were people literally put out on the streets, with nowhere to go, joining those who were already there, as the shelters were already full. Early on, we engaged Dr. Stanwick, who is the Chief Medical Officer for Island Health. He was worried about the lack of social distancing on Pandora and the health concerns of those living outdoors.

That’s why we worked with BC Housing and the Coalition to End Homelessness to open Topaz park as a temporary sheltering area until indoor solutions can be procured by the Provincial government. It is an impossible situation for everyone involved. I completely understand the concerns of the community. This has been a difficult process and there are certainly challenges and no easy answers. These are unprecedented times, and we have all had to think differently and think and act quickly in the face of a public health emergency.

Thankfully, I know that BC Housing and partners are doing everything they can to secure more indoor options which will eliminate this temporary arrangement at Topaz. It’s really important to me that we all work together. There are no sides here, no us and them. We all want a healthy, safe community, for everyone.

 News from the community

We learned recently about and wanted to share a community initiative for seniors. It’s a website put together by seniors in Victoria called Well and Truly Grey. I have to share the website header here because I just love it!

Screenshot 2020-04-22 22.49.24

We know that a lot of seniors are feeling isolated. For these residents, Well and Truly Grey is a source for links to information about COVID-19 and government and community resources. The community members – all volunteers, all seniors – who created this website are aiming to provide free trusted information specifically designed for seniors in a kind of one stop shop.

There are also interactive bulletin boards to help people stay connected to one another. Do check it out and share it with seniors who you think might be interested and need the resource.