A few weeks ago, the City of Victoria, the Victoria Foundation and the Canadian Urban Institute came together to host an “urban intensive” called CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. It was a very powerful three-day series of discussion and dialogue. If you missed it, you can catch all the sessions on the CUIxVictoria website, some of which I’ll highlight in this post.
As event organizers, we deliberately profiled and foregrounded voices and experiences that are often left in the margins: Black, Indigenous and people of colour. The event was powerful because their voices and experiences are powerful. But it was also powerful in that it gave me hope that even though the world is coming apart at the seams as I wrote in a previous blog post, a new world is possible. Indeed, it is already emerging.
The CUIxVictoria sessions gave me greater motivation to work at helping to create that world. I also feel a keen sense of responsibility – a big one – as a white middle class settler woman to de-centre myself, to get out of the way, to provide support and resources where necessary, and to stop that “trickle of whiteness” as Charity Williams so eloquently called it in the video featured at the top of the post, “Hope Meets Action: Echoes Through the Black Continuum.”
The “trickle of whiteness” that seeps into processes led by and for Black, Indigenous and people of colour is the product of unconscious bias and the systemic racism that infects so many of our processes and institutions. In “Hope Meets Action” – which is also the name of an exhibit at the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) – we heard about what is possible when institutions like the RBCM hand over power, authority and resources to the Black community.
The museum exhibit, and the process to create it, centres the lives and stories – past and present – of Black British Columbians. The process of deciding what stories to tell and how to tell the stories was in the hands of Black community members, not in the hands of the museum curators. “Hope Meets Action” is a remarkable story. I highly recommend watching the panel discussion above if you work in an institution or setting that is decolonizing and working to address systemic racism.
In “Belonging in Victoria: Muslim Voices for Change,” (video below), we heard directly about experiences of Islamophobia and racism that Muslim women face in Victoria. Aisha exclaimed in disbelief, “How is Islamaphobia worse now than it was when I was in high school?” Zara noted that racism is rooted in colonization and that colonization is dehumanizing. We have an idea in Canada that we are not racist, she said, that we think, “This isn’t who we are in Canada.” If racism is rooted in colonization and Canada was created by way of colonization, then there is racism in Canada, and in Victoria. These Muslim women face it every day.
Yet also, they shared stories of resilience: their recommendations presented at the end of the panel for how to make Victoria more inclusive, less Islamophobic; their very presence and courage to organize a plenary session for CUIxVictoria and to speak so vulnerably, so openly, and with such generosity; and Chrystal’s moving spoken word poem where she asserts, “I deserve to be held with love, dignity and awe.” Please take the time to listen to the conversation as part of helping to usher in the new world we need. Addressing Islamophobia is work for all of us.
The CUIxVictoria sessions left me thinking about what concrete actions I can take in my last year as mayor and in whatever I do next, to support decolonization, dismantle systemic racism, create more inclusive economies and low-carbon prosperity. Those of us with white privilege, class privilege, settler privilege have to work hard to help create this new world, this new way of living together.
How do we do this? In the “Inclusive Economies” session profiled below, one of the panelists quoted Lilla Watson, a Murri visual artist, activist and academic working on women’s issues and Aboriginal epistemology in Australia: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Working together involves those of us with power and privilege handing over power, resources, time, centre stage, and more, to those whom patriarchal-colonial-extractivist capitalism has left out and left behind. What I learned from CUIxVictoria is that the view from the margins holds the wisdom for our shared future.
There was one additional and simple piece of advice that came through from the Black, Indigenous and people of colour participants on many of the panels, and was especially highlighted by members of the Welcoming City Strategy session profiled below: build new relationships. Members of the City’s Welcoming City Task Force suggested that if you are Caucasian, ask yourself if most people in your social circle are also Caucasian. Work to change this. When you meet someone who is different from you at work, picking up your kids at school, in your neighbourhood, invite them for a cup of coffee. The work of welcoming belongs to all of us.
With so much hopelessness around climate change – which we heard a lot about in the youth session – and hopelessness about the opioid crisis, the housing crisis, mental health challenges, experiences of racism, discrimination, the ongoing impacts of colonization, CUIxVictoria was a peek into the world that is possible and a sense of what it will take to get there.
To learn more about the process of developing the Welcoming City Strategy and to meet some members of the Welcoming City Task Force, join online this Wednesday October 20th from 5:00-6:30pm for a virtual panel discussion as part of CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. You can register for the Welcoming City session here.
For the past year I’ve been honoured to participate in the City’s Welcoming City Task Force and to work alongside newcomers, people of colour, Black and Indigenous people, agencies that work with and serve them, and with Councillor Dubow as task force co-chair. The task force began in November of 2020 by asking, “What makes Victoria unwelcome?” And we worked together over the next many months to develop a Welcoming City Strategyand Action Plan, which are coming to Council for consideration this Thursday.
Racism makes Victoria unwelcoming to people who are – in increasing numbers – moving here from around the world, and to Indigenous, Black and people of colour who have been here for longer. A survey conducted by the Intercultural Association (ICA) confirms the experiences of the Welcoming City Task Force members and others engaged in the consultation process to develop the Welcoming City Strategy.
The ICA survey found that 71% of who identify as Indigenous, Black, Asian or a person of colour personally experienced racism in the past five years in Greater Victoria, either daily, weekly or monthly. And 70% of people who identify as Indigenous, Black, Asian or a person of colour feel undervalued, isolated and unsafe in Greater Victoria because of their race or ethnicity.
What can also make Victoria feel unwelcoming is a lack of readily available information on services for newcomers, discrimination when seeking employment or housing, lack of access to and understanding of the legal system, inability to access City services in their first language, fear of calling the police for help, worry about their kids attending school without teachers and other parents having cultural awareness and anti-racism training, lack of access to affordable, culturally appropriate food. And more.
What I experienced as a white settler woman engaged in the Welcoming City Task Force was the extreme warmth and generosity of the task force members and others we engaged over the past year. These are folks who experience systemic discrimination, who are hurt and frustrated by systemic racism. Yet they showed up, shared their painful experiences, trusted us, and trusted the process even though in so many instances trust has been broken and processes have failed them.
To wrap up the engagement process as task force co-chairs, Councillor Dubow and I held a virtual town hall meeting, an open forum to catch any thoughts or ideas that may have been missed in the more structured “Welcoming Standard” workshops (more on that below). Right after the town hall meeting, we had a quick debrief with City staff who were involved in the task force process and attended the town hall meeting.
One veteran staff member who has attended many town halls, public forums and engagement opportunities in their time, remarked on the gratitude and generosity of the participants. The staff member was struck, as was I, that many of the people in attendance who spoke, began their remarks with comments like, “Thank you Councillor Dubow and Mayor Helps for this opportunity.”
Despite the fact that almost all the participants were Black, Indigenous and people of colour, accustomed to experiencing discrimination and racism, generosity and gratitude prevailed. What struck us was the contrast between the Welcoming City Town Hall and others Council has held in the past, where people with race or class privilege attending take for granted that the forum is there for them and sometimes rudely or harshly address council.
The prevalence of racism in Victoria, and the generosity we experienced throughout the Welcoming City process, make me resolute in my commitment to implement the Welcoming City Action Plan and to make Victoria more inclusive, less racist and to achieve Victoria’s Welcoming City vision: a city where newcomers are warmly welcomed and well supported. I anticipate that when the Strategy and Action plan come to Council on Thursday, Council will share this commitment.
To develop our Welcoming City approach, we built on the work done by the non-profit Welcoming America, which developed the “Welcoming Standard” in 2009. Since that time, several countries including Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the United Kingdom joined as members of Welcoming International. The Government of Canada, through the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship joined the network in 2020. The City of Victoria is the first city in Canada to develop a Welcoming City Strategy. The Welcoming Standard is organized according to the following seven categories:
Government Leadership – In welcoming places, local governments implement systems, programs, and comprehensive equity, diversity, and anti-racism policies that strengthen community efforts and embed inclusion within government agencies.
Civic Engagement – Welcoming communities actively ensure that residents, including newcomers, fully participate in civic life by increasing access to leadership and democratic spaces.
Equitable Access – Welcoming places work to ensure community services and opportunities are available to all residents, including newcomers.
Education – Welcoming communities strive for an educational system that ensures all students have the support they need to succeed in school and the education they need to succeed in the workforce.
Connected Communities – Welcoming communities build connections between newcomers and long-term residents by strengthening relationships and communicating shared values.
Economic Development – Welcoming communities harness the full potential of all residents. Newcomers have the skills and assets to thrive, and economic development systems are prepared to leverage new and existing talent.
Safe Communities – Welcoming communities foster trust and build relationships between residents, including newcomers, and local law enforcement and safety agencies.
Welcoming Standards are community specific roadmaps that provide a guide with community-determined benchmarks to develop stronger, more inclusive communities and bridge the gaps between newcomers and long-time residents. A ‘newcomer’ is defined as a recent immigrant (up to five years in Victoria), refugees, international students, temporary foreign workers, and recent immigrant Canadians relocating to the city. Welcoming cities recognize that communities are healthier, happier, and more productive when newcomers are welcomed and can participate fully in society and the local economy.
Please read the Strategy and Action Plan and share them with others. The work of making Victoria welcoming is work for all of us. And, those of us with race, class and other privilege have a key role to play and key actions to take in making Victoria an inclusive, anti-racist city for everyone and for the future.
Can you invite a newcomer for tea? Can you advocate for anti-racist training in your workplace? Can you ensure your kid’s classroom is welcoming and inclusive of everyone? How can you create time, space and opportunity with and for those who are often marginalized and privilege and centre their voices and experiences? How can you get out of the way when necessary?
To learn more about the process of developing the Welcoming City Strategy and to meet some members of the Welcoming City Task Force, join online this Wednesday October 20th from 5:00-6:30pm for a virtual panel discussion as part of CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. You can register for the Welcoming City session here.
Victoria Grandmothers for Africa Last Sunday, I was invited to ride with the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa on the final leg of their 15th annual cycle tour. We met at Central Park and biked along the Vancouver Street bike corridor to Mile 0 where they had started four weeks ago.
Over a four week period, 65 women from greater Victoria as well as Campbell River, Duncan, Galiano Island, Ladysmith and Merville cycled a total of 28,144 km and raised $104,180 (and climbing) for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The women range in age from 58 to 86 with a median age of 70. Individually they completed distances over the four weeks ranging from 143 km to 1133 km.
At the first international Grandmothers Gathering (held in Toronto in 2006), 200 Canadian grandmothers made a commitment to 100 African grandmothers and to the world: “We will not rest until they can rest.” Fifteen years later, thousands of grandmothers are more committed than ever to three shared goals: raise awareness, build solidarity, and raise funds for the local, community-based organizations that support African grandmothers and the children in their care. There are over 15 million orphans in Africa – children who have lost one or both parents to HIV & AIDS – and most are being raised by grandmothers.
According to the organizers, “the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa Cycle Tour … embodies solidarity. Cycling requires strength, endurance, confidence, balance, optimism and perseverance. African Grandmothers need all of these and more in order to carry out their work. The tour has raised over a million dollars for the Steven Lewis Foundation over 15 years.”
During the pandemic, the Victoria Grandmothers weren’t deterred and found creative ways to continue the cycle tour and continue to raise money, which is a good thing because support for the grandmothers in Africa is needed now more than ever. In African countries, there is limited access to vaccines and the goal of having enough doses available for 10% of the population by the end of September is unlikely to be met. This leaves African grandmothers and their grandchildren at risk and even more in need of help, support and love sent from their counterparts in Victoria.
This is the fifth year I’ve joined the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa at the end of their cycle tour (last year virtually). Each year I do, I’m moved to tears by their deep and heartfelt commitment to grandmothers on the other side of the world. It is unwavering and it’s an inspiration for all of us. As big as the world might seem, we can make it smaller by creating direct links to others – in this case grandmother to grandmother. We know when we do this, that however far apart we are and however different we might seem from each other, we are inextricably connected.
You can learn more about the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa and their work here.
Fourth Wave Fatigue It has been a difficult past few weeks in our city, province, and country. Notwithstanding the inspiring story above about the grandmother connections, we’re more divided than ever. In part it’s because everyone is beyond tired – fatigued – as we plow through yet another wave of COVID-19. This division is not necessary. And it’s not inevitable.
Doctors, nurses, those working on the front lines in motels and shelters in our community where vulnerable residents live and where COVID-19 has hit with a vengeance. Police and bylaw officers, paramedics, public works and parks staff. Small business owners who can’t find enough staff or who are experiencing break ins and damages. Those living outside because the existing sheltering and housing available doesn’t meet their needs. Those trying to care for them. All these people and many more are exhausted and stretched really thin, maybe to a breaking point.
Because of this, it’s the most difficult wave of the pandemic yet. But we’re not going to get through it divided. Remember back to the first wave when we were banging pots and pans to support health care workers. When we were bringing groceries to seniors who couldn’t go out. When we raised $6 million as a community in a very short time for the Rapid Relief Fund to help out those in need. When we found all sorts of ways to stay connected even while we stayed apart. When there was a general and overwhelming feeling of goodwill, generosity and a sense that we were all in this together.
For those of us who want that feeling back, we can create it. Indeed I think there’s an imperative for us to do so if we’re going to make it through the fourth wave intact as humans and as a community. Here are some things that I’m trying to do that might also be useful to you:
Get off and stay off social media
Instead of looking at your phone while in a line up, strike up a conversation with the person behind you
Give people with strong differences of opinion an opportunity to share their views without arguing back; give people the benefit of the doubt
Notice if you have privilege and find ways to address it. (Below is an amazing video to help figure out where you stand)
Find ways in daily life to do small, kind and unexpected things for others – both people you know and people you don’t
This might be a bit of a heavy read, and it’s a bit rambly about all the challenges we’re facing. But there is some practical inspiration and hope at the end of the post. Feel free to skip right to that section if you don’t want a re-hash of everything that is wrong with the world right now.
It feels as if the world came apart at the seams this summer. I read CBC news every day, both BC and national. I also scan the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. I read for information, but also for the metanarrative – what’s going on in the really big picture? How do all these headlines and stories fit together?
I wonder if others also see how bad things actually are and how all the problems we’re facing as a human society are interconnected, or at the very least related. The climate crisis. The housing crisis. The labour shortage. Worker burnout. Racism and colonialism. And more.
The pandemic and climate change are the most obvious. BC’s State of Emergency finally came to an end after 16 months and then, weeks later, BC was in another State of Emergency because of the wildfires. Is the new normal a State of Emergency? This is a real question.
In the interior, last summer’s tourist season was ravaged by COVID-19. This summer it’s COVID-19 and climate change. And nurses in the interior (and elsewhere) are quitting their jobs because of the stress and continuous state-of-emergency conditions. In Alberta, nurses are being forced to work overtime to deal with a rise in COVID-19 cases. Nurses and doctors are exhausted. Firefighters are exhausted. What if everyone just gets too tired? Who will take care of us then? Who will back fill?
Our population growth via immigration has stalled because of COVID-19, but even when we begin to welcome newcomers again, where will they live? Canada has one of the worst housing supply situations of any OECD country. So even if we let immigrants in by the thousands to fill the massive labour gap that we are facing in many industries and professions, there are no homes for them. There isn’t currently enough housing in the country, province or city for people who are already here.
In Victoria last summer, we also felt the negative effects of COVID-19. Those without homes and living in poverty experienced the giant gaps in the social safety net and ended up living in parks. And we also experienced a lack of tourist travel which had negative impacts on our local businesses.
This summer, tourists are flocking to Victoria rather than to other parts of the province that are too smokey. Our restaurant staff are so stressed as there aren’t enough workers to cover shifts; they’re often working shorthanded, or many are new and being trained all at once. Last year, restaurants had limited capacity because of COVID-19. This year some have limited capacity because of lack of staff; they have to close on certain days or cut hours. Everyone is hiring but no one can find enough workers. Why? Because the workers can’t find housing that is affordable, and, in many cases, they can’t find any housing at all, even if they make a really decent salary.
A friend told me over dinner recently that a few years ago, BC Assessment began to assesses the value of multi-unit residential rental properties differently and that rental buildings are now being valued at the income that they could be earning rather than the income that they are earning.
What this means is that even if a building owner is charging tenants rents that are below market, their buildings are now assessed / valued at how much they would be worth if they were charging market rents. For example, if a building owner has tenants that have lived in a building for a long time and are paying less than what they would if they moved in today, or if a building owner supports a single mom with kids by giving her a break on rent, their buildings are still valued at the maximum rents they are able to charge. They are penalized for providing below-market housing.
How is having a building that is “worth more” a penalty? Because as the assessed value of a building goes up, this means property taxes for that building go up and the below market rents can’t cover the property taxes. My friend tells me that some of his friends – long-time building owners – are putting their buildings on the market because they can’t afford to keep them more affordable.
These buildings are being snapped up by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), the mandate of which is to deliver as high as possible rate of return to their investors. Some of the investors in REITs are public sector pension corps. We want teachers and nurses and city workers to have good pensions; but we also want them to be able to afford housing now.
We also want our small local businesses to survive and thrive coming out of the pandemic. And yet, Amazon is opening a distribution centre near the airport to distribute Amazon goods up and down Vancouver Island. When our small businesses are still struggling.
Housing shortage. Labour shortage. Exhausted workers on the front lines. Housing crisis. Pandemic that looks like it’s here to stay. And climate change wreaking havoc. Something’s going to give. Something is giving. The world is breaking apart at the seams.
What do we do? Do we become bystanders? No. What is my role? As a human? As mayor? It’s exhausting sometimes when every decision that is good for the climate crisis or for the housing crisis feels like a giant fight. Think the Richardson Street bike corridor. Think the proposed rental building at 1475 Fort Street, sent back to staff for a third time rather than moving forward to create new housing.
Is this a blog post or a journal entry?
I thought this morning that maybe it’s a culmination of feelings built up over a few days of summer holiday reflection. It’s the same way I felt sometimes as a teenager – despair that we humans were destroying the planet and no one was really doing anything about it. I rode my bike and took the bus to school and became a vegetarian for a time. I did my best, but it didn’t really matter, because look at how the adults were treating the planet.
Now I’m an adult with an eighteen-year-old in my life who feels much the same was as I did. What are we doing as adults?
We can’t house people. We can’t properly care for people with mental health and substance use challenges; the latter are dying in larger numbers than people are dying of COVID-19. We can’t provide our essential workers with any relief as we lurch from State of Emergency to State of Emergency. We can’t adequately or quickly enough address systemic racism, the ongoing impacts of colonialism and the grief of residential school survivors and the families of those who never came home. We want to save the old growth forests, but we still fly to Mexico for vacation.
All of this while the province literally burns down around us.
But still, in Finding Our Way, she shares wisdom that I turn to in despair. Wisdom that offers a path forward through connection, love, and hope-through-shared-action.
There are three elements in the book that give me not only hope, but the ability to see more clearly and to act more deliberately, both as a human and as mayor.
Wheatley says that we need to become better systems thinkers, to “see a system and its web of connections.” How is climate change related to COVID-19 related to the housing crisis related to the worker shortage related to worker burnout related to racism and colonialism related to disconnection?
She suggests when we’re trying to make change, to start small, do something that makes a difference and see who notices. The point is to find the connections in the system that we don’t know are there. Wheately says that when we do something like that – take a small action in the direction we want the world (or our street or community or neighbourhood) to move, people show up, “We didn’t know there was any connection between us, but their response makes the connection clear” (207). We then understand those connections better and can use them to take the next action.
To be better systems thinkers we also need to expect that there will be unintended consequences to the actions we take. We need to be able to identify these quickly, reflect on them, and then to take a different action next time. Systems thinking also requires seeking out different interpretations. “The more interpretations we gather,” Wheatley says, “the easier it is to gain a sense of the whole” (208).
Second, Wheatley says that we need to find less aggressive ways to work through problems. She points out that even how we talk about problem solving is aggressive. We “attack a problem,” “tackle the issue,” “get on top of it,” “wrestle it to the ground,” “take a stab at it” (182).
What she recommends instead is this:
“To step aside from aggressive responses to problem solving requires a little used skill: humility. Humility is a brave act – we have to admit that we don’t have the answer. We need more information, more insight. This kind of humility is rare in competitive, embattled organizations and communities, but it is what we need to find real solutions. One wise educator put it this way: ‘Humility is admitting I don’t know the whole story. Compassion is recognizing that you don’t know it either'” (184).
I think about social media here, how it is a platform for sheer aggression. What would Facebook, Twitter etc be like if – instead of posting with such certainty and then defending positions – people shared what they were grappling with, or struggling to understand. What if social media became a platform for humility and compassion.
The third kernel of wisdom I’ve gleaned and would like to share is probably the most important, and indeed the two approaches above are not possible without it: listening.
“Our natural state is to be together. In this time when we keep moving away from each other, we haven’t lost the need and longing to be in relationship. Everybody has a story. If no one listens we tell it to ourselves and we go mad. In the English language the word for health comes from the same root as the word for whole. We can’t be healthy if we’re not in relationship. And whole is from the same root as holy. Listening moves us closer; it helps us become more whole, more healthy, more holy” (219).
What she recommends is that we “all play our part in the great healing that needs to happen everywhere.” She asks us to, “think about who you might approach – someone you don’t know, don’t like, or whose manner of living is a mystery to you. What would it take to begin a conversation with that person? Would you be able to ask him or her for an opinion or explanation, and then sit quietly to listen to the answer? Could you keep yourself from arguing or defending or saying anything for a while? Could you encourage the person to just keep telling you his or her version of things, that one side of the story” (221)?
Thinking like a system, approaching problems less aggressively, and listening. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the complex issues we are facing right now. Yet in a time of despair and disconnection, in a summer where it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams, these are three tools that I can use – maybe tools that we can all use – to help stitch the world back together again, creating it anew at the same time. To become more whole, more healthy, more holy.
Along with other mayors, MLAs and MPs across the region, on Friday moring I was invited to stand with the nine chiefs of the South Island First Nations as they released and signed a letter calling for an end to the vandalism that is further dividing our communities and preventing healing from taking place.
The chiefs unequivocally denounced the tearing down of the Captain Cook statue and the vandalism to churches. They said that this was not done in their names or in the names of their nations. They told us that since this vandalism had happened, their young people and their elders had been subject to greater racism and their own properties had been threatened.
They asked those of us in attendance to work with them to create understanding and loving, caring communities. They said that we will get further along the path of reconciliation and towards healing together, arm in arm rather than by tearing down each other’s cultural symbols. “Na’tsa’maht”, some of the chiefs said. This means, “We are one,” in lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ (Lekwungen). With generosity, love, and through ceremony, they called us in, asked us to witness and to share what we learned.
All the words and stories shared were powerful and I listened with an open heart – a heart breaking open with both grief and opportunity. But the most powerful moment of Friday’s event for me went beyond just the words.
At the opening of the ceremony, us non-Indigneous leaders were invited by the chiefs to walk in together with them, shoulder to shoulder, in a procession behind the lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ Traditional Dancers, singing, drumming and dancing the Paddle Welcome Song. Despite everything that has happened and that is happening in our region, province and country – so much divide, so much racism, so much anger and hurt – they invited us to walk with them. In that moment, we were one. I will carry with me that feeling of profound oneness from Friday’s event as we continue to walk the difficult but healing path ahead.
Here is the letter from the Chiefs. Please share it with everyone you know.
“Dear South Island Community Members and beyond,
“We are writing you in a united voice of Nations to share our perspective on the recent events in the South Island and beyond, and to spread hope that we can work together for change, and a safer community.
“These events have brought violence and vandalism to our region and communities, the damaging of property including statues and totem poles is unacceptable. We are all residents of this region, and we need to respect each other.
“We are leaders of the South Island Indigenous communities, and these are acts are not ours, we do not support them, and we do not believe in dividing communities.
“These acts are not medicine, they fuel hate and inhibit the healing that is so deeply needed right now. The disrespectful and damaging acts we have seen are not helping, they are perpetuating hurt, hate, and divide.
“These actions go against our teachings and are not reflective on how we have been taught to carry ourselves. As a collective we feel the need to step in before things continue on a destructive path.
“We are writing this letter because we need to work together towards the goals that strengthen our community and bonds with each other.
“We ask all residents of Southern Vancouver Island and beyond to join us on the road to healing. We need to walk together, support each other, and demonstrate humanity. We honour those that have stood with us, those who are our allies, and those who have listened and supported us.
“All vandalism must stop immediately. Let us lock arms, walk together, and look out for one another. Please do not lose sight of the young ones that we are honouring, and please listen to our Elders and survivors.
In Friendship, Songhees Nation Esquimalt Nation Beecher Bay First Nation T’Sou-ke Nation Malahat First Nation Tsawout First Nation Tsartlip First Nation Pauquachin First Nation Tseycum First Nation”
As she sanitized the knob of my office door, one of the City’s newest employees, who keeps our offices COVID clean said to me when we met recently, “Nice to meet you; thanks for building the city for the future.”
The one exception is housing and land use. There we’re still very much stuck in the 20th century. And we are very close to a tipping point, in the wrong direction. Unless the City and the Province make some bold moves soon, we will be responsible for creating a low-affordability future where the next generations of families and working people will be priced out of the city. We’ll lose artists, creatives, daycare workers, young professionals. We’ll lose our arts and culture scene. All of Victoria’s cherished strengths will be steadily eroded and undermined.
Whether you’re for or against townhouses being allowed in every neighbourhood, or for or against taller buildings downtown and in Harris Green, I imagine no one would willingly work create to this kind of future. So what can we do?
Single Family Dwellings: So few can afford them, so why are they so easy to build? Currently, the City’s land use policies and procedures make it easier to build a single family home than any other type of dwelling, even though this is the most expensive form of housing that few people can afford.
Want to knock down a single family home and build a bigger one? No problem. This only needs staff – not Council – approval. And it doesn’t take too long to get the permits needed. Want to build a triplex, or houseplex or townhouses – what’s known as “missing middle housing” – on lots that are currently zoned for single family homes?
Start by holding a Community Association Land Use Committee (CALUC) meeting.
Incorporate the feedback you receive at the CALUC meeting into your plans.
Submit your rezoning application and development permit application to the City.
Staff will then review your application, including an interdepartmental review that usually involves both the Parks and Engineering departments.
Then your application will be sent to a Committee of the Whole meeting for review by Council. If you’re lucky, Council accepts the staff recommendation to move the project forward. But Council always has the prerogative to refer the application back to staff to work with the applicant to make changes. If this happens, go back to step 3; if there are substantive changes, go back to step 1 for another CALUC meeting.
If you get past Committee of the Whole, two weeks later the application is voted on at Council. It could get turned back or turned down here.
If it passes at Council, months are usually needed to prepare all the legal agreements required before proceeding to a public hearing.
Once all the legal agreements are prepared, one more trip to Council before heading to public hearing; that’s at a Council meeting where first and second reading of the bylaws are considered. Council could turn down or turn back the proposal at this point too.
After first and second reading of the bylaws, a public hearing date is scheduled and advertised to the public in the newspaper, as is required by provincial legislation.
At the public hearing, the public gets to share their thoughts and concerns about the project. And then, that night, Council makes a decision.
This whole process can take often take a year, or more.
Unless there are efforts by the developer to rally support for the proposed new housing – which is often seen as suspect by Council and some members of the public – public hearings are usually mostly attended by people who live in single family dwellings nearby the proposed duplex, houseplex or townhouse who are opposed to the new housing. As the Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply and Affordability put it in their recently released report, “Rezoning can be difficult and amplifies the voices of a few rather than the needs of the community at large.”
So we’re making it easiest to build the most expensive form of housing, and we’re pricing people out of our city.
Later this month, City staff will be bringing a report on missing middle housing to Council. They will recommend changes that make it much easier to build the kind of housing that people in Victoria need and can afford. I hope staff recommend taking away Council’s ability to vet these proposals, and delegating the entire process to staff. In short, I hope we start to treat duplexes, houseplexes and town houses just as we currently treat single family homes. I can’t think of a logical reason why we wouldn’t at least try this given that so few working people can afford a million dollar home.
Beyond Single Family Homes: What about housing supply in Victoria more generally? While the Canada-BC Expert Panel was hard at work, so too were City staff. The recently released, “Victoria’s Housing Future,” report looks at current and future housing needs in our city. When staff presented their report to Council and the public a few weeks ago, one of the City’s housing staff and report authors reminded us that, “We’re planning for people, not just to accommodate growth.”
There is a narrative out there in the public that goes something like: “There’s so much construction and building already changing our city. Why should we welcome more people to Victoria and change our city so much that we don’t recognize it, just to accommodate people who don’t live here yet?”
Starkly, what “Victoria’s Housing Future” reveals is that as of 2016 (the most recent census data and five years out of date), we are between 4500 and 6300 homes short for the people who are already living here. Where are all these people now?
This estimated housing gap of between 4500 and 6300 homes for existing residents is based on these factors. It’s likely a conservative estimate of how much catching up is needed. According to “Victoria’s Housing Future”, “Even if 7000 units were added to the market today, we’d likely still feel some of the same pressures we’re already facing.”
To help out our residents who are already living here in overcrowded, or unaffordable housing, and to help employers who can’t keep workers because they can’t afford to live here, Council should not be allowed to turn down any proposal for new homes that fits within the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP), until we close the 7000 unit gap.
Here’s what the OCP says about Land Management and Development:
“Victoria’s Housing Future” also reveals that even if the OCP is built out to meet the housing need anticipated by 2041, we will still be 20-30% under the number of homes projected to be needed. What this means is that we need to revise the OCP to create more “urban residential” land and less “traditional residential.”
Traditional residential means:
Ground-oriented buildings up to two storeys
Ground-oriented buildings up to two and one-half storeys may be considered for certain infill housing types
Multi-unit buildings up to three storeys, including attached residential and apartments on arterial and secondary arterial roads
Houses with front and rear yards oriented to face the street
Variable landscaping and street tree planting
Small apartments and local retail stores along arterial and secondary arterial roads and at intersections
On-street parking and individual driveways
Urban residential means:
Attached and detached buildings up to three storeys
Low-rise and mid-rise multi-unit buildings up to approximately six storeys
Primary doorways facing the street
Front yard landscaping, boulevard and street tree planting
On-street parking and collective driveway access to rear yard or underground parking
Shifting more of the city’s limited land base from traditional residential to urban residential doesn’t mean drastically changing the character of our neighbourhoods. It means doing more with our limited land base. And, it means doing this in order to meet not only our housing targets but also our climate goals. If we don’t make more room for housing in the city, what will happen is what is happening – more forests will be destroyed to build housing in the suburbs.
What can we do to make sure there is enough room in Victoria for artists, innovators, families, seniors, the next seven generations? The Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply makes some good recommendations that the Province should implement immediately. Low hanging fruit includes mandating no public hearings for any buildings that fit within a City’s OCP. The panel also recommends that cities update zoning to match their OCPs and delegate development permits to staff. This means that there will be no political decisions and no public input for new housing on a development by development basis, as long as proposed new homes fit with what the OCP envisions.
While it may feel to some that these changes will cut the public out of the process, what they’re meant to do is a open up a more robust and vision-oriented public dialogue that happens as OCPs and design guidelines are developed and as City-initiated rezonings come forward. This kind of big-picture dialogue isn’t happening through the current public hearing process which pits existing neighbours against future neighbours against Council against developers.
Instead, we could ask questions that require us all to think bigger than whether we are for or against a certain proposal, questions like:
How might we enhance Victoria’s character and the neighbourhoods we all love at the same time as making room for current and future residents to have the housing they need at every phase and stage of their lives?
How might we protect existing older rental buildings and the affordability that comes with them, at the same time as making the most of the limited land base we have in the city?
How might we ensure that as our city grows and has more tall buildings as envisioned in the OCP, we also create more public spaces, green spaces, and enhance biodiversity?
It’s in answering these questions together that we’re going to build a more inclusive, resilient city, a city for everyone, and for the future.
In support of Victoria’s Muslim Community, today I released the following statement against Islamophobia and hate:
In light of the horrific events in London, Ontario – a targeted act of violence against a Muslim family out for a Sunday evening walk – this is a call to all Victorians to stand together with our Muslim community members who are once again scared and grieving because of a hate crime perpetuated against Muslims in Canada.
I have spoken with Imam Ishmail this afternoon to offer the City’s love, support, solidarity and anything else that is needed to help our Muslim brothers and sisters get through this painful and difficult time.
To all Victorians, we must continue to stand against hate and hate-motivated violence wherever we see it. And in particular over the next few days and weeks, let’s find all of the ways we can – each of us, in our daily lives – to demonstrate to Muslims in Victoria that they are welcome here, that they are loved, and that they are our community.
The first year anniversary of George Floyd’s death is coming up at the end of this month. His murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked international outrage. It brought the Black Lives Matter movement and the existence of systemic racism – everywhere, not only in policing – squarely into the mainstream as an issue that could no longer be ignored.
Creating a Welcoming City Strategy to address systemic inequities and make Victoria more welcoming is an action in both Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and the City’s economic action plan, Victoria 3.0. When the pandemic hit last spring – like much else that wasn’t part of core operations – Council put this project on hold. After George’s Floyd’s death and the response to it in Victoria and around the world, we felt the need to take urgent action.
For background and context, here is an excerpt from the June 9 2020 Committee of the Whole Report from Councillor Dubow and I:
“At the Council meeting on April 9, 2020, Council decided to put on hold a range of initiatives due to budget constraints from COVID-19 and revisit these on August 6th. The Welcoming City Task Force was one of these initiatives.
“Given the recent events in the United States and Canada as well as the well-organized and thoughtful responses of Victorians against racism in all forms and the desire to create a welcoming city for everyone, it is recommended that we proceed immediately with the Welcoming City Task Force. This will enable Council to harness the energy, creativity, passion and commitment currently evident in our community to make Victoria a welcoming and safe city for everyone.
“The original proposed funding amount for this initiative was $50,000. This included engaging a consultant, in person meeting costs and stipends for Indigenous members of the Task Force as per the City’s protocol and compensation policy. Given that the meetings will all be held online, it is possible to reduce the budget.
“There is approximately $42,800 remaining in the Mayor and Council travel budget for this year, most of which will not be used given travel restrictions and lack of in person conferences. It is recommended that $40,000 be re-allocated to the Welcoming City Initiative.”
Council accepted our recommendation unanimously and a task force was struck.
The Welcoming City Task Force is co-chaired by myself and Councillor Dubow and is made up of people who reflect Victoria’s increasing diverse population. The members have been working hard with consultants and city staff for many months in preparation to launch an extensive public engagement process, which begins this week.
What is a Welcoming City? The Welcoming Cities program began in the United States in 2009 as a deliberate way to create relationships between long-established residents and newcomers and to help develop a sense of belonging, connection, and community cohesion. Since then, it has grown into a global movement with the founding of Welcoming International and the development of the Welcoming Standard (pictured above). The Standard lays out the keys areas of civic life that need concerted attention and action in order to create inclusive communities:
Not all the categories in the Welcoming Standard are within the jurisdiction of local governments. This is why Victoria’s Welcoming City Task Force includes representatives from other organizations like the Greater Victoria Public Library, newcomer serving agencies and Parent Advisory Council reps. The idea is to co-develop and co-deliver the Welcoming City Strategy together with the community.
Why Welcoming Victoria and How to Get Involved Victoria is a culturally diverse place. According to the 2016 Census, close to 20 percent of Victoria’s population are newcomers, or people who are new immigrants or refugees to Canada who have settled in Victoria. They face significant social and economic barriers to integration into the local community and into Canadian society.
Creating a Welcoming City Strategy means foregrounding the lived experiences of newcomers, people of colour, Black people and Indigeneous people to help inform the development of the strategy, so it reflects their needs and desires. We know that even on their own homelands, Victoria can be an unwelcoming place to Indigenous people. This needs to change. Important as well are the voices of long-established Victorians who have a role to play in helping to make Victoria welcoming, inclusive and resilient because of our diversity.
Phase one of the engagement begins this week with small workshops for people to share their experiences and needs in each of the Welcoming Standard areas cited above. At the same time, everyone is invited to share their stories between now and May 30th on the City’s Have Your Say platform. Do you feel a sense of welcome and belonging? What would help to make you feel like you belong and are able to flourish in Victoria? The Welcoming City engagement will be up Tuesday so if you go there as soon as you read this post on Sunday evening, you won’t see it yet – please check back later in the week!
The information gleaned in the workshops and on the story portal will be used to generate a community survey that will go live in early June. Whether you’re a newcomer or a long-time resident, please take the time to fill out the survey. You’ll also find it on the City’s Have Your Say platform in June.
The input from public engagement will help to inform the development of a Welcoming City Strategy that will be presented to Council in the fall. Once adopted, the implementation of the Welcoming City Strategy will be led by the City’s newly formed Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
The success of the strategy will be in the quality of the inputs we get during the public engagement period. For those who are new to Victoria and/or racialized minorities who don’t feel welcome here, who experience racism, who need us to do better as a community, thanks in advance for the courage to tell your stories and share your experiences. We can and must do better. For those of us who are non-people of colour, non-Black and non-Indigenous, we have work to do to unpack our privilege and examine our shared role in making Victoria more welcoming.
I thank the hard-working, courageous, and delightful task force for their work to date, and I look forward to the next steps in this important and necessary process.
I wanted to started this email / post with the op-ed I wrote for the Times Colonist on Thursday, which marked one year of the global health pandemic. The crafty headline writers at the paper gave it the title, “Can-do spirit of past year will help position city for the future.” I’m sharing it with all of you as a tribute to what we’ve all been through. If you wrote specifically about Clover Point or about homelessness and concerns with respect to parks sheltering and the plans to move people indoors, feel free to skip the op-ed and go right down to those headings. If you’d like to receive weekly updates, you can sign up here (top right hand side).
Can Do Spirit of Past Year Today marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic. The flag at City Hall is flying at half-mast to recognize and mourn the lives that have been lost.
Today is also a moment for reflection: how we came together to fight COVID-19; how our lives have changed; what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained. It’s also a time to look forward, towards recovery and to what kind of economy we build for the future.
Each of us probably remembers where we were the moment life changed. I was at the Victoria airport on March 11, 2020. I’d checked in and was waiting for my flight to Ottawa for a conference and minister meetings. My phone rang and it was staff at City Hall suggesting I reconsider travelling.
I remember telling the woman at the Air Canada boarding gate that I wouldn’t be on the flight. “You and almost everyone else,” she said. Recognizing me as the mayor she said, “Good luck to you … good luck to all of us,” with a real sense of foreboding.
It’s much more than luck that has carried us through the last year. It’s the skill, courage and sheer fortitude of those working in our health care system. They risked their lives to keep us all safe. They showed up for shifts in the early days of the pandemic when so much about the disease was unknown. They tended to the sick and the dying. They are COVID-19 heroes.
So too the bus drivers who kept transit running so people could get to work. The grocery store cashiers and clerks. The teachers who got kids back to school in uncertain conditions. The City workers who kept providing the services we depend on like garbage pick-up, street cleaning, running water.
When the world shut down and we were told to stay at home, to work from home, those who couldn’t and didn’t – for the benefit of us all – deserve our deepest thanks.
We did thank them early on, banging pots at 7 p.m. On front porches and in backyards throughout the region, every evening the loud clanging clatter of thanks. That simple act brought us together, lifted our spirits. But then it stopped, our spirits fizzled, and COVID-19 fatigue began to set in.
Our bubbles started to feel small. We couldn’t go for dinner with a friend, take a trip, enjoy a symphony concert or a play. Sing in our choirs. Attend church in person. Many have lost jobs or had their work hours cut. The pandemic widened existing cracks in the social safety net, leaving our most vulnerable neighbours in desperate need of housing and support. Our kids’ mental health worries us, and maybe our own mental health does too. Our small businesses are struggling.
There have been some silver linings. The region’s generosity was evident in the early months of the pandemic when the Times Colonist, Victoria Foundation and Jawl Family Foundation launched the Rapid Relief Fund with the aim of raising $1 million. In less than two months, contributions small and large totalled $6 million, all of which went directly to non-profits providing services to people hit hard by the pandemic.
The Build Back Victoria initiative last summer showed how quickly Council can act and how agile City Hall can be. Within weeks, dozens of patios and retail “flex spaces” sprung up across the city to create more space for businesses to serve customers. I’ve had a number of business owners tell me that Build Back Victoria is the reason they’re still open. And I’ve had residents say to me that they’ve never spent as much time or money on Government Street as they did last summer.
In all sectors, women, youth, Indigenous people, people of colour, and low-wage service workers have been disproportionately impacted. According to the South Island Prosperity Partnership’s Rebootrecovery vision, “we must collectively take bold steps to nurture a more inclusive and diversified economy.”
This has been one of the most difficult years in Victoria’s history. And we’ve made it through. In the coming months, let’s continue to use what we’ve learned during the pandemic – agility, deep collaboration, a can-do spirit – to position our city and our region for the future.
Clover Point Decision Recap Please see blog posts from February 28th and March 7th (head to Clover Point section in each post) for a more comprehensive explanation of the approach we’ve taken to Clover Point. In response to further emails this week, I’m sharing some information on the precise decision for those who may not have these details, and a link to the February 25th staff report. At the February 25 Committee of the Whole meeting, staff presented three options for the interim design of Clover Point Park. Council approved the below motion and we ratified it at our daytime Council meeting on March 4.
Interim Design Options for Parking and Pedestrian Space in Clover Point Park That Council direct staff to proceed with Option 2 for Clover Point Park:
Complete modifications to increase the pedestrian priority space in Clover Point Park, as illustrated in Attachment B, with an allocation of up to $275,000 in the 2021 Financial Plan, to be funded from the Buildings and Infrastructure Reserve.
That the painting budget be restricted to delineating pedestrian trails and bike trails versus passive space.
That a location be found downtown for the “follow the pod” public art feature.
That staff be in consultation with immigrants and immigrant associations, ethno-cultural groups and the seniors’ advisory committee, youth council and City of Victoria youth council, Fairfield Gonzales Community Association, Accessibility Advisory Committee, Active Transportation Advisory Committee, and that their views are considered.
That food trucks must use sustainable practices and must submit these practices to staff.
That the budget for furniture be reduced to $50,000.
You can find the staff report and Council’s discussion from February 25 here.
Update on Parks Sheltering and Moves Indoors(and what the City spends money on) Some of you who have written this week have asked us to ends parks sheltering immediately. Others have asked us to extend it indefinitely, or to the end of the pandemic. My hope is that Council sticks to our commitment, which is the middle ground between these two positions.
In November, Council passed a motion indicating that we would change the parks bylaw to end 24/7 sheltering once everyone currently living in parks has been offered an indoor sheltering space as a pathway to permanent housing. We had set a goal of March 31st. The Province and BC Housing accepted this goal and everyone has been working towards it. Parks are not homes. And Beacon Hill Park is not a campground. Parks have been used as emergency shelters in an emergency situation. A huge shout out to our parks staff who are working so hard to maintain Beacon Hill Park even in these very difficult circumstances. Please thank them when you see them.
As of this week the Province announced that it has secured a sufficient number of indoor spaces to support moving people inside. Because two of the sites secured this month require significant additional retrofitting to prepare them for use as emergency shelters, the process will continue until the end of April 2021, rather than the end of March as originally planned. Announcement of the final site list will be done in partnership with the city in the coming weeks once all of the agreements between BC Housing and the property owners have closed.
Following through on its commitment, at our evening Council meeting last Thursday, Council gave three readings to a parks bylaw amendment that would see the end of 24/7 sheltering as of May 1st. Council will consider adoption of the bylaw this Thursday.
All the indoor sheltering locations will be fully operational, with non-profit service providers identified, by April 30, 2021. At these locations, staff will be on site 24/7 to provide wraparound supports, including meal programs, life skills training, and health and wellness support services.
Fifty-seven people have moved inside since the beginning of March and moves will continue this coming week. People have moved inside from Ellis Street in Rock Bay, Cecelia Ravine Park, and 940 Caledonia. This site will be closed as of March 19th to make way for a Tiny Home development, subject to the outcome of an opportunity for the public to comment on the project at Council Thursday evening.
We expect a minimum of 52 moves this coming week into Capital City Centre and other sites. BC Housing is prioritizing people over 50 (down from 55), those at risk of COVID-19, those who are long-time homeless, and Indigenous people.
Here are four questions that one person has asked; they reflect questions from others of you as well. I have answered them a number of times – in some form – since August when I began weekly updates. Please read previous posts if you require further or more detailed information. You can find them here.
1. Why did you allow 24/7 camping in parks in the first place, given that this was not a requirement of the BC Ministry of Health? A global pandemic was declared. Shelters closed. Couch-surfing ended. Bubbles got small. And people had nowhere to go. The City allowed people who had nowhere to go when everyone was told to stay at home to shelter in place. Dr. Henry advised on June 8th 2020 in a memo to all mayors in British Columbia that encampments should not be cleared unless there were safe indoor spaces for people to go. At this time, she has not rescinded her advice or sent any further memos. That’s why we’ve been working hard with the Province to secure safe indoor spaces so that we can move people inside and end encampments.
2. Why didn’t you admit the mistake and reverse course when it quickly became clear that 24/7 camping was a disastrous decision? While there have been many difficulties with this situation for everyone involved, I don’t believe it is a mistake. I think there would have been a greater risk of the spread of COVID-19 had 200 to 400 people had to take down their tents every morning and move throughout the city. Plus, there was literally nowhere for people to go. Even Our Place and the library closed, two places where people without homes can spend time during the day.
3. Why are you intending to allow 7pm – 7am camping in parks after all campers have been offered accommodation? The BC Supreme Court decision does not require cities to allow camping in urban parks except when there is no sheltering alternative. I agree. The goal is to have no camping in city parks and to have adequate indoor sheltering space for everyone who needs it. The goal is to achieve what is called “functional zero” when it comes to homelessness. What this means is that if someone becomes homeless, there is room in the emergency shelter and housing system to catch them immediately and to meet their needs, however complex, before their situation becomes chronic.
The 2009 BC Supreme Court decision ruled that people who have no homes have the right to erect shelters overnight. The decision uses words like “adequate sheltering alternative” or something like this. So it’s not just as simple as the number of shelter beds that may be available on a given night. If for example, someone is in recovery from drug or alcohol use and the only shelter beds available are ones where drug use and/or alcohol consumption is permitted, that may not be considered an “adequate” shelter for that person. The Supreme Court decision is not a simple numbers game.
4. Why do you refuse to acknowledge the extent to which the homeless population in Victoria consists of people from outside the region? We will never get ahead of the problem of housing so many people when there is a large and steady influx from other provinces. What the bi-annual Point In Time Count shows is that the majority of people who are homeless in Victoria are from British Columbia. And, Council unanimously voted last August to ask the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) table to prioritize people for housing who have lived in the CRD for at least a year. Council does not make decisions about who gets housed. You can read the August 6th recommendation to Council from myself and Councillors Thornton-Joe, Loveday and Alto here. (See item J3.)
There seems to be a narrative emerging in some of the emails we’ve received, and probably also on social media, that instead of “wasting” money on bike lanes and Clover Point, the City should be spending money instead on housing, mental health and addictions. At then there is also a narrative that Council focuses on issues that are beyond our scope and that we should stay focused on what is properly within a municipal mandate.
Health care and housing are clearly – and constitutionally – the responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments. The City can and does partner with both levels of government; we sometimes provide land for housing. And we have a housing reserve fund in which we deposit $650,000 per year to help fund the creation of non-market housing by non-profit housing providers. But we are not responsible for housing, health care, mental health and addictions supports and we don’t have the revenue raising capacity or tools to fund these important services.
But cities are supposed to spend money on parks and improvements to transportation infrastructure. And, contrary to what seems like popular belief, most of the bike infrastructure in Victoria is not funded through property taxes. It is funded through gas tax funding which is remitted to local governments from the federal government each year and can only be used to fund sustainable projects. The City of Victoria is not alone in developing a high-quality bike network. This article, “Europe doubles down on cycling in post-COVID recovery plans,” celebrates the explosion of cycling infrastructure across Europe.
And just one more thing in this regard, because it gets raised so often: we spend millions every year paving roads and filling potholes. At the same time as we are building bike lanes and improving parks – to deliver on the City’s 20-year paving and road maintenance plan – we are increasing the paving budget up to a steady state of $7.9 million per year by 2023.
Road Paving – Major and Local Streets
Year Budget 2018 $2.8 million 2019 $2.6 million 2020 $5.5 million 2021 $5.2 million 2022 (proposed) $6.3 million 2023 (proposed) $7.9 million
“So, as the proud mother of a son who is both chronically disabled and homeless due to serious mental illness and has managed to survive on the streets of Victoria for many years: may I say that just LOOKING at the ‘Shelter Referral Card’ does some kind of deep healing to my heart. I don’t even know that my son is ever going to receive one of these, but just knowing that people like him are is deeply, deeply encouraging to me.
I know that you and certain other concerned councillors are receiving a LOT of flack for these efforts from people who have no personal interest in really trying to understand the complex issue of homelessness. Please know that there are MANY more mothers and brothers and sisters and grandparents out there who are BLESSING YOUR SOUL for this work, every single day.”
She shared this article with me from The Capital Daily, where parents of homeless Victorians speak. To all the parents, grandparents and siblings of people who are homeless out there in our city or across the province or country, we know it’s not their fault, and it’s not your fault either. The health and housing system fails those with the most chronic needs, over and over again. This is why we are working together with the Province and the federal government to make sure that the housing and health care systems work better together, and work for everyone.
This is a sample of the card that people who are living outside will get when they are offered an indoor 24/7 space as a pathway to permanent housing.
Thanks for your emails this past week. As always, to ensure a timely response, I’m writing back to all of you at once. If there is additional information that you’re looking for with respect to sheltering in parks, the move to indoors, or Clover Point, please head directly to my blog here and check back over the past few weeks and months. If you’d like to receive a weekly email you can sign up here, top right hand side.
I’d like to begin by asking everyone to take a moment of silence for the two people who died this week in Beacon Hill Park.
In a country as prosperous as Canada, a province as prosperous as British Columbia, and a city as prosperous as Victoria no one should die alone, outside, in a park.
Many of your emails this week echo concerns we’ve heard from many months now about the situation of people sheltering outside. You want to know what the plan is. Many of you express frustration at the situation, are worried about some of the violence you’re hearing about. Others are worried about those who are living outside who are vulnerable and subject to violence, stigma and discrimination. You want us to do more, and to do better, and to do quickly.
For the past year, we’ve been in our small bubbles, not able to go for dinner with a friend, take a trip, enjoy a symphony concert or a play. Sing in our choirs. Attend church in person. Some have lost jobs. Our kids’ mental health has been stretched, and maybe our own mental health has too. Some of us have been living outside in tents for months. We’re quick to anger, blame. Our frustration is boiling over. One year into a global health pandemic everyone is on edge.
I will out outline the plan for getting people indoors, I’ll respond to your other concerns, and I’ll update and recap the Clover Point decision. In the meantime, what I’d like to ask for, from everyone, over the next weeks and months as we come out the other side of the pandemic and the parks sheltering situation, is for all of us to work together to take the temperature down. I was reminded recently of a really simple piece of wisdom: when in doubt be generous. Generous in spirit. Generous in the face of anger, frustration, confrontation.
Indoor Sheltering Plan Please share this section of the blog post widely with anyone who has questions about what to expect in the next few weeks. I’ll keep it tight and factual.
In November, Council adopted this motion:
“That the City of Victoria works with the Province and other partners to offer housing or indoor shelter with a path to permanent housing for everyone currently sheltering in City parks by March 31st 2021 and directs staff to bring forward amendments to the Parks Regulation Bylaw so that the temporary measures including 24/7 camping expire on March 31st 2021. Final adoption of these amendments are to be scheduled once it is clear that adequate housing and shelter space will be made available by the March 31st deadline.”
Since November, the Province, the City and many others have worked together to follow through on this direction. Here is what has happened in the past week and what to expect in the next few weeks.
This week 49 people moved inside, 45 into the arena and four into other locations. Most of the moves happened from Ellis Street, Cecilia Ravine Park, and the Royal Athletic Park parking lot.
All parks where people are living and most of the people living in them are known to BC Housing. BC Housing, PEERs and others have been working in parks for the past couple of months to ensure that everyone has housing applications filled out.
Having a housing application filled out is the pathway to permanent housing. People can do so here.
All move ins are being organized through the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) process.
Offers are not being made on a park by park basis, but based on the CAA process and individual housing applications. Everyone who has been identified as living in an encampment in a city park will be made an offer in the coming weeks.
The CAA table meets every Tuesday to evaluate applications.
The following spaces have been identified / confirmed: 45 Arena (full) 52 Capital City Centre 30 Tiny Homes 5 Mt Edwards 15 Comfort Inn Annex 5 Youth Hostel Total Confirmed Units: 152 These numbers are subject to change and are the latest available information as of Friday March 5th. Approximate number of units short: 50-70-ish
We expect more sheltering opportunities to become available in the coming weeks. We don’t know where these will be.
In addition to these 152 identified units, there are other spaces that are available mostly to people already living in shelters, motels or supportive housing. As these people move into these other spaces, this will create more spaces for people coming directly out of parks. This is a slow process.
There are 24 units at Hockley House, a new Capital Regional Housing Corporation (CRHC) building in Langford that rent at $375 per month; 13 people have been identified so far to move in there at the end of March, CRHC is evaluating applications. The remaining 11 spaces will be assigned through the CAA process and applications forwarded to the CRHC.
There are approximately 30 two-bedroom units that rent at $1625 per month in a new CRHC building in View Royal. These would be suitable for roommates with one rent supplement each. There are approximately 70, $825-per-month rent supplements available through BC Housing. These are available to rent market apartments and are for people who can live independently. The two-bedroom, roommate situation is on the CAA’s radar but difficult to coordinate.
This coming week, offers will be made for Capital City Centre and move ins will begin the week of March 15th.
In the coming weeks, offers will be made to the other locations noted above, and to other locations as they become available.
The criteria being used to prioritize people – with the most vulnerable being offered spaces first – is over 55, risk of COVID-19, long-time homeless, Indigenous.
Island Health has been part of the planning for the move-ins over the past few months and will work to ensure that people have the physical health, mental health and other supports they may need as they move inside.
When people receive an offer they will get a card as pictured above and will be assisted to move into the identified location.
Not everyone will be offered a motel room; those who move into the non-motel room spaces like the arena and others that may become available, will move into permanent housing first.
If you turn down an invitation to go indoors, you may still be considered for future shelter or housing opportunities. There is no guarantee of another opportunity, but applications will remain valid and will be considered as vacancies are available in the BC Housing system.
24/7 sheltering ending is contingent on people already identified in encampments being offered a 24/7 indoor sheltering space as a pathway to permanent housing. A motion of Council is required to re-instate the 7pm-7am only sheltering bylaw.
Other Sheltering Related Questions and Concerns Some of you have raised other questions and concerns that aren’t covered above. I’ll do my best to address them here, again with a numbered list for ease and readability! I do like to write in paragraphs rather than lists but also want to make sure that I share as much information as possible in as concise a way as possible. I’ll go back to paragraphs once we get to the other side.
Some people will need more help and support than supportive housing can offer. This is why myself and the 12 other mayors in the province that make up the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus – which are all facing the same homelessness, mental health and substance use crises – are working with Ministers Eby and Malcolmson on Complex Care Housing. Please read our recent op-ed to learn more.
Our police officers, bylaw officers, parks and public works staff are all doing incredibly difficult work in very challenging circumstances. I, like many of you, am grateful to them for their work. I will continue to support funding and resource requests to ensure they have they have what they need to do their work.
Some of you have asked, “What has happened to our once beautiful city?” Part of my PhD research focused on Victoria in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. I read hundreds of reels of microfilm of Victoria’s daily newspapers, and people then were asking the exact same question. What is happening to our city and other cities across the province and country, is that we are in the middle of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now, like then, those who are suffering the most are the most visible. In the 1930s, people were upset to see jobless men in bread lines, the long line ups at the City’s relief office, and a feeling of general disorder and upheaval. In 2020-2021, it is people without homes living in parks that are the most visible. What we’re seeing now is the manifestation of the pandemic, just as in the 1930s what Victorians witnessed was the manifestation of the Great Depression.
This is not to dismiss the challenges facing us. I have read all your emails. I share your concerns. The situation we are in with people living in parks in the middle of a global health pandemic isn’t good for anyone. Hence the plan above. Council and city staff are working hard every day with our dedicated and committed partners to address the issues that many of you have raised. This is a tough problem and it takes a lot of people working collaboratively and a lot of time to resolve.
Some of you have asked myself and Council to support no sheltering in Central Park. I do support this, as well no sheltering in Centennial Square and Cecelia Ravine Park. Downtown, North Park and Burnside Gorge already host most of the shelters and supportive housing units in the city.
Thank you to those of you who have sent suggestions, from buying old ferries to temporarily house people to sharing what Finland has done to end homelessness. All these creative ideas are welcome.
Clover Point I understand that we touched a nerve with Clover Point. I think this is probably because the idea was sprung on you with no warning. I get how this is unsettling and disruptive, especially in the middle of a pandemic with so much uncertainty already. Those creature comforts and familiar experiences like sitting in a car watching that waves at Clover Point are really important.
I won’t recap everything I shared in my email / blog post last week about why now and the interim nature of the changes. For those of you who haven’t yet read that post, with all the details, I would really appreciate it if you take the time to do so. You can find the information here; skip down to the Clover Point heading.
And thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Some of you who want Clover Point to remain exactly as it was say that you sharing your perspectives with me is not going to change my mind. But hearing your thoughts and perspectives over the past few weeks did change my mind from making Clover Point pedestrian only to moving towards a middle ground. This new compromise option is temporary – let’s see how it goes and how the space is used over the next couple of years.
Turning the Problem Around Many of you have written with points of view that are very different from mine, whether it’s about Clover Point, parks sheltering, downtown, the role of cities, the Vancouver Street bike lanes and more. The gift of being mayor is that I get to read all these different points of view. And I consider them all; that’s my job.
In a book I finished recently, Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities, Adam Kahane writes about a team that he worked with to develop democracy in post-apartheid South Africa: “When they listened, they were not just reloading their old tapes. They were receptive to new ideas. More than that, they were willing to be influenced and changed. They held their ideas lightly; they noticed and questioned their own thinking; they separated themselves from their ideas (‘I am not my ideas, and so you and I can reject them without rejecting me’). They ‘suspended’ their ideas, as if on strings from the ceiling, and walked around and looked at these ideas from different perspectives.”