For those looking for an update on Clover Point, I’ll provide that next Sunday after Council has reviewed new options from staff on Thursday. For those looking for an update on indoor sheltering and the March 31st move in goal, I will also update on that when I have additional information to share. Please see past posts for details.
I remember the first time I was aware of having a racist thought. It was the summer after grade 10. I had been selected to represent my city, London, Ontario, at a global youth leadership conference in Pittsburgh. I was in the cafeteria line up with kids from all over the world. There was a Black kid in front of me. And I felt superior.
I caught myself immediately; I felt both horrified and ashamed for having that thought and wondered where it came from. I didn’t grow up in a particularly racist family and while London was pretty white, at least a couple of schools I’d attended had been relatively diverse. I hadn’t yet heard the term “systemic racism”. But by the time I was 15, I’d already internalized both my status in a systemically racist society, and white supremacy – one of the of the basic organizing principles of western culture. Those with white skin carry privilege.
Since that shocking moment in the cafeteria line up, I’ve been working to unlearn racism and racial bias. I’ve been listening hard to the voices and experiences of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour. And whenever possible, particularly in my role as mayor – which carries with it a great deal of privilege – I’ve been working to facilitate and to take action against racism in all its forms. But there is still so much to learn.
At our evening Council meeting on February 11th, a few speakers came to talk with Council about Councillor Dubow’s trip over the holidays and Council’s response to it. The most poignant remarks were from Gina Mowatt. Please take the time to listen to her address on the Council meeting archive. She begins speaking at 16:10. She noted that the statement I made in response to Councillor Dubow’s travel, “has incited violence against Councilor Dubow … the statement has been celebrated and shared widely through white supremacist websites and social media groups online.”
Ms. Mowatt went on to say that if City Council understands and and believes that racism and white supremacy are real and tangible for Black people as well as Indigenous people and people of colour as we claim we do, that we should deal with the racist backlash that Councilor Dubow is facing on social media. She noted that Councillor Dubow is now in an unsafe position as is the Black community in Victoria due to the surge of anti-Black racism that has come as a result of my statement and a disregard for the fact that Councillor Dubow will be targeted differently than a white politician for anything he does. She reminded us that this is white supremacy.
She concluded by noting that “Council facilitates the ignition of white supremacy and hate while hiding behind a thin curtain of progressive politics and diversity rhetoric.” She called for Council to make statement against anti-Black racism and to denounce the call for Councillor Dubow’s resignation.
What really struck me, once again, while listening to Ms. Mowatt’s candid and thoughtful remarks, is the great responsibility that privilege carries. Because I am white and because I have not experienced racism, as I was preparing my statement with respect to Councillor Dubow’s travel, I didn’t think about how it might be used by others to incite hate. I didn’t think about how it might add to a climate of unsafety for Councillor Dubow and other Black people in the Victoria community. Especially because I’m in a position of power as mayor, I should have thought about the impact my statement could have in perpetuating racism and white supremacy. I got publicly called out for this. And for that, I am both grateful and humbled.
I am not on social media so have not been privy to the racist attacks that Councillor Dubow has been subjected to. He has since shared some of this with me. He notes that some of the most racist comments – heartbreaking and unmentionable here – are from people in Victoria. He told me that the posts of responses to his travel have been shared 80 times as much as the news coverage of white politicians who traveled. He told me that racism is exhausting.
This is my statement: Racism against Councillor Dubow is unacceptable, it is hurtful to him and to many in our community and it must stop. Racism in any form is intolerable and we must call it out every time we witness it. This is a particularly important thing to do for those of use who benefit from our positions of privilege in a racist system. Calling out racism isn’t enough; we must work to dismantle racial hierarchies and the power structures that keep them in place. To do this we must foreground the voices and experiences of people who have been held back by, hurt by and excluded by systemic racism. And we must take the actions they say need to be taken to create a more just and more equitable society.
To undertake some of this work in Victoria, Councillor Dubow and I are leading the Welcoming City Task Force. Our welcoming city work is inspired by Welcoming America, which “leads a movement of inclusive communities, becoming more prosperous by making everyone feel like they belong.” The mandate of Victoria’s Welcoming City Task Force is to develop a Welcoming City Strategy that will help to make Victoria more welcoming and also less racist as our city grows and changes and as we continue to welcome newcomers from around the world. The majority of the task force members are Indigenous, Black and people of colour and it is their voices and experiences that will shape the actions in the Welcoming City Strategy.
For Victorians wondering how you can participate in making our city more welcoming, the Welcoming City Task Force will be beginning engagement soon. But in the meantime, there are a few things those of us in positions of privilege can do immediately. We can watch, read, and listen during Black History Month to learn more about the Black history of Victoria, British Columbia and Canada. Here’s one terrific webinar put on by the BC Black History Awareness Society as a good starting point. You can also read Councillor Dubow’s Times Colonist piece on Black History Month here.
We can also ask ourselves, what can I do to make Victoria more welcoming and less racist, in my work place, my school, my classroom, my church? What can I do in my daily life to unlearn racism and privilege? How do I respond when I’m called racist or when my privilege is pointed out and challenged? And most importantly, to move forward and create a more welcoming, less racist city, we can continually foreground the voices and experiences of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. In order to ensure you all get answers from me in a timely way, I’m writing you all at once. I want you to know that I’ve read each of your 483 emails! They were mostly about Clover Point so I’m going to focus on that this week. For those of you who signed up for sheltering in parks updates, there is nothing new to report except that we are still on target to get everyone in inside by March 31st and there are emergency indoor shelters open during this cold weather snap.
I’ll start with background information on the Clover Point proposal and address your concerns. Then I’ll look at Clover Point again from a couple of different perspectives, one related to democracy and one related our ecological responsibility. I’d be honoured if you took the time to read the whole post.
I like writing these posts as it’s a way to respond to your thoughts, questions, concerns and ideas and to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible. If you’d like to receive an email each week you can sign up here (top right hand side.)
Clover Point So many of you have taken the time to share some of your favourite memories at Clover Point. Thanks for doing so! You’ve said that it’s a place of refuge. A good place for car picnics on windy days. A place to share a cup of tea with an elderly parent. To watch the birds. To take in the magnificent view of the strait and mountains, wonderful for sunrises and sunsets, as well as storm watching. You like to eat your lunch there on your break or to get ice cream at the Beacon Hill Drive in and enjoy it in your car. And so many other stories.
One of my Clover Point car moments was years ago when I was going through a break up. You know that point in a break up where it still seems like a good idea to try and see each other even though the break up is definitely happening?! We got burgers from Big Wheel Burger and drove down to Clover Point. I think we were both grateful for the beautiful views while eating our burgers in the car, as it was much easier to look out at the ocean than it was to look at each other. A real solace.
Many of your emails seek to understand why this proposal and why now, what about consultation, and how will we consider accessibility concerns? There are also many of you who have sent passionate emails saying it’s a really good idea to change Clover Point in the way that we’re proposing. I’m not going to take a “side” here, because I think it’s always more complex than sides. I’m going to talk about the circumstances that the led to this proposal, and about engagement, consultation and accessibility. Then I’ll talk about next steps and where we go from here.
Last year, staff came to Council with a recommendation to replace the old Dallas Road balustrade near Ogden Point as part of the civil and engineering works that were happening in that area because of the sewage project. It was more cost effective to do it at the same time as the sewage project than as a stand alone project in the coming years.
The balustrade replacement project went very well in two ways. First, it was very recently completed – the final touches were installed just a few weeks ago – and it came in under budget. This left approximately $250,000 that could be used to make additional improvements to the waterfront. And second, everyone loved it! We got such positive feedback about the yellow deck chairs, the path for people walking as well as riding bikes, the additional angled parking spots for up close viewing of the ocean.
So with this remaining budget for public realm improvements, and the sewage project still underway at Clover Point, staff turned their minds to a similar approach as they had at the balustrade: what could we do now to improve the public realm in a cost effective way.
To get ideas for Clover Point, staff referred back to previous public consultation on ideas for Clover Point including this 2017 Fairfield Gonzales neighbourhood report that was produced by the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association Land Use Committee. Please take the time to read it; the residents put a lot of work and effort in.
Drawing on all this information and wanting to capitalize on the opportunity as they had up the road near Ogden Point, staff proposed the new interim treatment at Clover Point which has generated all the buzz this week! The proposed design is exactly that, an interim proposal the can be implemented in time for this summer while we have a longer conversation about the future of Clover Point.
One of the key things that came up in many of your emails this week is concerns that what staff had proposed to keep Clover Point accessible to those with mobility challenges did not go far enough. On Thursday, Council directed staff to report back on February 25th with some different options to address these concerns. Thanks to those of you who have proposed design ideas. I’ve forwarded them to staff.
A few other concerns that some of you raised is how windy it is and not a good place for picnics. Also the kite surfing crowd – a sport which I learned a lot about this week, thank you! – said we need to keep the grassy space open for kites to land. The good thing about an interim treatment and the installation of chairs and picnic tables, etc. is that they are easily moveable as necessary. There was also some concern about food trucks and lots of questions about garbage flying around etc. The food trucks are just an idea. People seem to have enjoyed the food carts that were along Dallas Road last summer, so perhaps maybe they’d also enjoy them at Clover Point from time to time.
The whole point of the proposed project is to try something a bit different down there that will make the place feel more like a park than like a space for cars to park, while keeping it accessible to as many people as possible. Many of you in business will know the Six Sigma PDSA methodology: Plan, Do, Study, Act. It’s an iterative, four-stage problem solving model used for improving a process or carrying out change. And it’s also so that we can learn by doing, not by talking or theorizing or studying. This is the approach we propose to take over the next few years at Clover Point. And all your feedback has been and will be most helpful in this regard!
I’ll post a further update on my blog after the Council meeting on February 25th.
“The majority of people feel the same way I do.” This is a phrase I’ve heard uttered often this week about Clover Point. And every time Council proposes to take a bold action that changes the status quo, whether it’s bike lanes, reconciliation efforts, sheltering during the pandemic, or this week, Clover Point, I hear the same message, “The majority of people feel the same way I do.”
Those of you who have written to me this week to tell me this have shared a screenshot of the number of “likes” on your Facebook page, or you site the majority of comments in a Facebook Group that you belong to, or point to the number of people in an online media poll where the majority of voluntary respondents have supported your point of view, or note that all the callers on one radio show are saying the same thing.
This approach to difficult issues – asserting that a majority of people hold a particular view based on social media, an online poll, or talk radio – threatens democracy, undermines civic dialogue, and inhibits our collective ability to tackle complex problems.
“The majority of people agree with my point of view,” is a product of the echo chamber of social media where algorithms predict our likes and interests and feed us content that reinforces what we already believe. This documentary, The Social Dilemma, lays this all out really well. In social media land, differences of opinion are trounced on and facts become irrelevant. The most notorious case in point: there are millions of Americans who believe that Donald Trump won the election.
As noted above, we’ve received a number of emails from seniors and people with disabilities this week requesting that Clover Point be left as is so that they can continue to enjoy it. Here are some other emails we’ve also received from seniors and people with disabilities.
From a senior
“Dear Mayor and Council,
“As an 88 year old resident of Victoria, I want to urge you to keep Clover Point car-free. Clover Point is a unique and much visited part of Victoria. It is very important to keep it car free in order to maintain its natural, unspoiled beauty. I can enjoy it when I get a ride to that area, and then can walk out to the end of Clover Point, enjoying the natural sea shore, WITHOUT VEHICLES as part of the view and landscape. When I can no longer walk I shall sit in a car parked along the road … I DO NOT NEED TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE TO THE END OF THE POINT TO APPRECIATE THE SPLENDID VIEW!!!
“By the way I am an active citizen who VOTES every chance I get!!”
And from a person with a disability:
“Fully support the proposed changes — I have a toddler and avoid Clover Point. We walk down to Dallas Road and there’s nothing for us at Clover Point.
“The cars backing in and out, the exhaust, and the fact that the green space is enclosed on all sides by a parking lot makes it unsafe and frankly, super boring. Which is a shame because it’s such an incredible and unique spot!
“I love the city’s new vision and I’d love to see Clover Point made into an actual park.
“I have a disability which among other things means that I can’t drive. Make Clover Point a safe, accessible place and everyone wins. There are tons of other places to park in a storm and look out the window.
“Maybe some wind breaks in the new design would be neat.
“Also, shout out to Councilor Young who first proposed this back in 1994! Wow!”
And if these two emails aren’t evidence of a healthy diversity of opinion even within the most affected groups, the survey conducted this week by the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association is a bit more evidence that there is no strong majority opinion on the topic of Clover Point, one way or another. This survey was open from Tuesday morning to Wednesday afternoon and was completed by 992 people. It is voluntary and non-representative The results show that:
48.0% support the proposal (475 votes) 9.2% somewhat support the proposal (91 votes) 42.8% oppose the proposal (423 votes)
There is this great movement afoot in the United States called, “Make America Purple,” where Democrats and Republicans with strongly held views sit down, one-on-one, and have a conversation. What they’re finding is that they have more in common than what sets them apart. I’ve done this too. Some of you may remember a few years ago when Paul Seal who ran a Facebook page called Victoria BC Today was waging what felt like pretty personal attacks on me online. I invited him to my house for tea. And he came! We found that there were quite a few things we could agree on and also that it felt good for both of us to have a face to face conversation.
So a request from your mayor who loves each of you and this city very much: the next time you’re thinking that the majority of people see something the way you do, or when you’re feeling really strongly about an issue, reach out to someone who thinks differently about it, and invite them to have a conversation. I can guarantee that if we all do this, it will make our city better, and also, it will feel good because being connected with each feels better other than being divided from each other.
What’s our responsibility to the creatures we love?
A final consideration that has been niggling at me all week in the discussion of Clover Point is that few people have talked about the ecological health of the area.
Here is what someone who likes to drive down to the point shared this week with respect to nature: “I have witnessed, many a time, Orcas swimming so close you could almost touch them, Humpback’s slapping their large flukes just feet away. I have witnessed Eagles eating their catch on the rocks below as well as many an Otter frolicking on the rocks as well. I hear the sea lions barking and watch them swim by and occasionally jump out of the water.”
In 1956, according to Beacon Hill Park history, which cites a Daily Colonist article, “A circular drive with an oiled surface will be completed around the point.” Since 1956 storm water runoff from vehicles has been going directly into the habitat of the wildlife we all cherish. This article in the International Journal of Urban Sciences outlines the negative impact of heavy metals released from from car exhaust, worn tires and engine parts, as part of storm water runoff. In addition to heavy metals, the most common storm water pollutants from vehicles include oils and grease, and sediments from construction vehicles.
For years we pumped raw sewage right into the ocean off of Clover Point. As of December 2020, we are no longer doing so; we now have a sewage treatment system in place that aligns with the values of our community in the 21st century. I know that staff and Council will come to a solution for Clover Point that addresses the needs of people with disabilities and senior’s with accessibility challenges to have access to the water.
But for the rest of us, it’s time for the days of driving right up to the ocean to come to an end. I know this will feel like a loss to many people. But by letting go of this practice and by thinking of something much, much bigger than ourselves, there is also a lot to be gained.
Almost post script: On Saturday morning, after shoveling the sidewalk and checking in with the people running the emergency cold weather sheltering sites, I got back into bed with a cup of coffee. I was staring out the window, reflecting on how little was said about protecting nature at Clover Point this past week, and this Alice Walker poem popped into my head from her book called, Her Blue Body Everything We Know. This is my Sunday offering to you all.
Lisa / Mayor Helps
We Have A Beautiful Mother
We have a beautiful mother Her hills are buffaloes Her buffaloes hills.
We have a beautiful mother Her oceans are wombs Her wombs oceans.
We have a beautiful mother Her teeth the white stones at the edge of the water the summer grasses her plentiful hair.
We have a beautiful mother Her green lap immense Her brown embrace eternal Her blue body everything we know.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this week to share your thoughts, questions and concerns with respect to outdoor sheltering in parks and related issues. I’ve read all of your emails and I’m responding to them all together so that you all get an answer in a timely way. Some of you have requested a personal response. This is my personal response. It’s heartfelt, hopefully informative and assures you that I’ve read your emails and am hearing your concerns. If you have a specific bylaw related concern, please report it here.
This email will be short compared to my past Sunday emails as I’ve received fewer emails this week and a more narrow series of concerns. For those who want more general information about sheltering in parks and what the City and Province are doing to address it, please read last week’s email here. There is an outline of the steps we are taking with the Province and the plans that we are putting in place. If you’d like to receive regular updates you can sign up here (top right hand corner).
But in the meantime, some of you have other questions. With respect to enforcing the current sheltering bylaws, our bylaw staff are in parks daily working with the people who are living there to achieve compliance and to give people as much information as they can about what is expected. Some of you have expressed a lot of frustration about bylaws not being followed. There are 200 people living in nine parks. The City’s bylaw officers are doing their very best balancing the needs of people forced to live outside in the middle of a global health pandemic with bylaw enforcement and keeping parks available for everyone to use. Their work is very difficult.
A couple of people have written about the increasing number of people at Irving Park and that some people have begun to camp too close to the playground, where the kids from the nearby daycare usually play. We’ve made bylaw staff aware of this and they will (or have already) attend Irving Park to help ensure that the space is available for both the people who are living outside and for the kids to play. Thanks to the person who wrote and pointed out that this has been working pretty well until recently.
Some of you have written this week thanking me for work that myself and Council have been doing to address the current situation of outdoor sheltering and recognizing what a difficult situation this is for everyone. Others have written saying that we are doing a terrible job, or worse.
Some of you have said in response to my email last Sunday that you don’t care what is happening across the country or the province, you only care about what is happening in Victoria. The reason I shared all the information from elsewhere is to show that Victoria is not any different from other major cities across the country or the province.
In this Times Colonist piece, “Complex-care housing could help solve the B.C. dilemma,” that I co-authored with Brian Frenkel, a Vanderhoof City Councillor and the president of UBCM as well as Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran with whom I chair the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus, we lay out very clearly that, “A deadly drug supply and the effects of untreated addictions and severe mental illness are visible daily on our streets, doorways, in our parks, and — in more remote and rural areas — in forests and secluded places where people are a long way from help.”
It’s not just Toronto, Montreal, London, and other places I cited last week. There are people sleeping outside 24/7 in View Royal, Saanich, Sooke, Sidney. It’s just that they are more hidden than in Victoria which is a tiny municipality with no forested areas, only city parks. These aren’t excuses or deflections as some of you have suggested, these are just facts. And they are really difficult ones for all of us to face. It should shock us that there are people living outside in the middle of a global health pandemic in a country as prosperous as Canada.
Every day myself, members of Council, city staff, BC Housing, Island Health, the provincial housing ministry, and all the amazing front line workers in the parks are working towards the March 31st goal of offering everyone currently living in parks an indoor space.
Many of you have asked this week, will we really do this by March 31st and what happens after this. For awhile I felt like I was the only one who believed that we would actually be able to offer everyone an indoor space by the end of March. But over the past few weeks, Minster Eby, BC’s Housing Minister has unequivocally and repeatedly stated that he also believes this is possible. Please take the time to read this fantastic interview with him in today’s Times Colonist. I know that his staff as well as BC Housing staff are working very hard to secure spaces for everyone. I know this is an expensive prospect. But it’s not nearly as expensive as the financial, social, health and environmental costs of people living outside. And housing is also a human right.
People who choose not to go into an indoor location will need to take down their tents every morning as per the City’s parks bylaw, and those currently sleeping in RVs or vans in Beacon Hill Park will also have to move. Beacon Hill Park is not a campground; it is an emergency sheltering location.
What we’re finding, is that contrary to myths and popular belief, most people living outside do want to move inside into safe secure housing with a door they can lock behind them. We also know that some people will want and need support and especially peer support from people who have themselves recovered from homelessness. The Greater Coalition to End Homelessness has a fantastic peer housing support program that is funded by BC Housing and will be an important element of a successful transition for people moving in.
A key principle of Housing First, which is a proven approach to housing, is that choice is really important to successful housing outcomes and good for people’s sense of dignity. If you are a woman who has experienced sexual abuse in a congregate housing setting, you may prefer a transitional tiny home or a motel room. If you are some who knows that you live better in community than isolated in a room of your own, you may choose a congregate setting like the arena or the My Place shelter.
In May, in the early days of the pandemic emergency when people were rushed off the Pandora boulevard and Topaz Park into motel rooms and the arena, there was little assessment and little ability for people to share their needs or to have much choice in their housing. Now, since Council set the March 31st goal in November, outreach workers, medical providers, and BC Housing staff have more of a sense of who is living outside and what they need for a successful transition indoors.
Everyone will fill out a housing application (if you are living outside and haven’t filled out an application you can find supportive housing applications here and affordable housing applications here) and everyone will be offered an indoor space through the Coordinated Assessment and Access process that is run by BC Housing, Island Health and the Capital Regional District.
I know this seems like a lot of detail about the process, but some of you have asked very detailed questions about how all of this will work, and I want to give comprehensive answers.
Your Suggestions As always, I’m grateful when people take the time to send ideas and suggestions. Someone wrote:
“A few years ago I saw a clip from a Seattle news program where a small company (under 10 people) ‘adopted’ (for lack of a better word) a needy family. Problematic ‘tent cities’ fill our TV screens daily with numerous problems; children going hungry – so sad! It could be any of us!
“What if: 1 company contributed and cared for 1 individual (or family) for a year period?! the person (or family) would not know where their assistance is coming from. This ‘gift-support’ would be in addition to whatever they receive from the government and without tax penalty. Everyone needs a little additional help sometime.”
A similar idea is getting life right here in Victoria, not with companies (although I know there have been many corporate donors to the Transitional Tiny Home Community), but with individuals and churches. There a a group of people organizing to think creatively about how a person or group of people could top up a BC Housing rent supplement so that someone could afford to rent an apartment with a rent supplement plus a top up. I find it inspiring that residents are coming together to self-organize in this way.
Someone else wrote and suggested:
“My idea would be to build a large compound in the middle of somewhere far from cities and people who want to get off drugs and get clean could sign up (voluntarily, of course) and live in the compound for a minimum of 2 years. During this period they would learn a trade. They would also farm most of their food (supplies would be brought in monthly to bolster food, clothing, medicine etc), they would learn trades like sewing, mechanics, farming, woodworking, marketing. The could sell their products to allow the compound to thrive. They would also earn a daily wage which would go into a bank account in their name.
“Once the 2 years is up they could then leave and they would be assisted in obtaining employment in their trade. They would be given an apartment with the first 6 months of rent paid, and of course they would have their 2 years of wages in the bank account that they earned while in the compound. I think this would actually be a good solution to a very difficult problem. There are a few things though that would make this idea work: The compound has to be far away from any city. Too far to walk or drive. The compound must be voluntary for a minimum of 2 years. There will be a female side and a male side to avoid any situations where mingling could create a problem. Rules would need to be enforced. Trades are mandatory and part of the rehab.”
A program very similar to what is described here exists in View Royal called New Roads and run by Our Place Society. There are spaces available right now for men who are ready to voluntarily enter a 14 month to two year program to recover from an addiction. While the program doesn’t have all the elements that this thoughtful resident described, it does have many of them.
Finally, someone sent this inspiring article, Beautiful Micro-House Built in Sustainable Community For Formerly Homeless Folks. The Transitional Tiny Home Community proposed in Victoria is a version of this concept. It is not permanent housing but rather a transitional resting place until permanent housing is available. And like the article, which outlines a community effort in Austin Texas, the Transitional Tiny Home Community is an effort of the private and non-profit sectors as well as citizens and governments coming together to take a creative approach to temporary housing.
To Those Who Think I’m Doing A Terrible Job Thank you especially for taking the time to write and share your thoughts. I hear the frustration and anger in some of your emails. Being balanced and generous in my responses to your frustration and anger, doesn’t make my emails “fluff”, what I’m trying to do is to be respectful and to connect, human to human.
The sarcasm, and sometimes mean spiritedness as you make your points, and repeated rants against the bike lanes as a tag on to everything else you think I’ve done wrong are a bit hard to take. But maybe you’re feeling really stressed by the pandemic, or going through a hard time of your own. I want you to know that I hear you. I don’t simply roll my eyes and delete your emails. Because I believe in diversity of thought and a variety of perspectives.
What I also know to be true is that to solve the tough problems facing us – homelessness, a pending economic depression and the survival of our beloved local businesses, income inequality, racism, climate change, building a city for the 21st and 22nd century – we need to really communicate with each other.
“Our most common way of talking is telling: asserting the truth about the way things are and must be, not allowing that there might be other truths and possibilities. And our most common way of listening is not listening: listening only to our own talking, not to others … A complex problem can only be solved peacefully if the people who are part of the problem work together creatively to understand their situation and to improve it.”
Here’s to other truths and possibilities. And to creative solutions.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week with your concerns, feedback and suggestions about sheltering in parks, housing, homelessness and related issues. In order to make sure I respond to everyone in a timely way, I’m writing back to you all at once. I’ve been doing this since August.
For those of you who have written for the first time this past week and would like a bit more background on what the City and Province are doing to end 24/7 sheltering by March 31st, please take the time to read through previous posts. The two recent posts that have been read the most (and that I therefore assume have useful and relevant information!) are this one from January 3rd and this one from January 10th. To receive a weekly update you can sign up here.
I use headings so you can skip to the section that is of most interest. Though I’m always happy when people tell me they read through the whole email, as there’s lots of information.
59 Days and Your Concerns and Suggestions Many of you have written this week with ongoing concerns about people sheltering outside and have noted the negative impact this is having on you, especially those of you who live near the sheltering sights. What I find moving is that most of your emails are couched in compassion – you understand the difficult plight and the vulnerability of people sleeping outside, but you have your own concerns too.
You’ve had to add security cameras, you’ve had items stolen, you’re not feeling safe in your own homes, you’re going to sleep with stress and waking up with stress. Or you’re not able to sleep because of loud music, or someone having a mental health breakdown, or yelling and fighting. And you have to wake up to go to work in the morning, to keep your job and your own sanity during the pandemic. You feel like I don’t hear you, like I’m not listening.
And now I can already hear the emails in response to this one telling me that by acknowledging the concerns of housed residents I am demonizing people who are homeless, saying that they are all criminals, or all have mental health challenges, etc. I’m of course not saying this. I’ve spoken with some of you who are living outside and I know that you all have your own story and that everyone’s situation is unique.
I’ve asked many people over the past 10 months who have expressed concerns and say that I don’t hear them what would make them feel heard. What would make you feel heard? And the answer that I’ve received, repeatedly, is “Get people out of parks and parking lots and into proper housing with supports. Do something!”
There are 59 days left until March 31st to offer everyone currently sleeping in a park an indoor sheltering opportunity as a pathway to permanent housing. We made some good progress this week and have now identified a total of 127 indoor spaces. This week the Province announced that it will re-open 45 spaces in the Save on Foods Memorial arena on March 1st.
This week also a youth hostel opened with 27 spaces for youth ages 19-24. Some of these youth will be coming directly from parks, others from existing sheltering sites, freeing up space for others to move in from parks. The youth hostel is a new approach to housing that’s an opportunity for both housing and employment. The program has been co-designed by youth who moved out of Topaz Park into the Travelodge last May, along with the youth staff at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. Please take the time to listen to this amazing interview on CBC by a very bright young man, Jarvis Neglia, who is the project lead.
That takes us to 72 spaces. In addition, between 25 to 30 rooms at the Capital City Centre Motel will re-open in the middle of February so that takes us, conservatively speaking, to 97 spaces. If we add in the 30 person Transitional Tiny Home Community, that takes us to 127 spaces. There is still more work for the Province to do to identify the additional 75 – 100 spaces needed. Every time I speak with Housing Minister Eby I am confident that this work is underway and that we will meet the goal of ensuring that everyone currently living in a park is offered an indoor space by March 31st at which point 24/7 camping will come to an end. We hear you.
I know there are concerns from those who live near 940 Caledonia about the proposed Transitional Tiny Home Community. In the coming weeks we will share more details including information about the kind of housing that will be provided there, the programming, and the operator. There will also be a formal opportunity for the public to weigh in on the project at a Thursday evening Council meeting. And, as soon as the operator is announced, the City will hold regular meetings with the operator and neighbours just like we’ve been doing at the City-owned former Boys and Girls Club on Yates St. since 2016 when 48 people moved in there. When this site was proposed as a shelter, there was significant neighbourhood concern and opposition. The City, the operator, BC Housing and the neighbourhood have worked together well over the past five years to integrate My Place into the neighbourhood.
Thanks also for your suggestions and ideas. Someone sent this very interesting article about how Singapore creates enough housing for everyone in the country. Someone else shared this article on supported housing in the UK and asked what kind of models we are proposing here. There is a range of housing available in Greater Victoria from rental supplements in the private market with a support worker or peer support worker visiting on a regular basis, to the other end of the continuum which is supportive housing with 24/7 around the clock staffing and supports available.
The motels that the Province bought and leased have these 24/7 wrap around supports. But there is a difference between retrofitting a motel and purpose built supportive housing where the buildings can be designed to offer the kinds of supports needed. This is the longer-term work that is needed beyond March 31st. There is also need for complex care housing, which I discuss below.
A National Crisis Some of you write on a regular basis, my harshest critics, blaming myself and Council for creating the homelessness situation here and for allowing 24/7 camping.
In most major cities in Canada right now there are 24/7 encampments. Here’s a December 6th 2020 story about a 40 person encampment in Montreal. It reads in part, “While tent cities like this are new to Montreal, shelter workers and experts say it’s not necessarily a sign that significantly more people in Montreal are homeless. But they all agree that the pandemic has made homelessness more visible and disrupted the way people access both formal and informal services.”
In Hamilton in October, two large tent encampments were dismantled only after everyone was offered indoor sheltering opportunities: “The city said in a release it has focused on helping encampment residents with moving into emergency housing options over the past week.”
From London, Ontario, (my hometown), London Quietly Lifts Ban on Encampments during the Pandemic. The article notes similar logic as we’ve relied on in Victoria: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve all been asked to stay home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But for the hundreds of people who live on London’s streets, that’s not even a possibility. It’s one of the reasons why the City of London quietly lifted a ban on homeless encampments since the pandemic began in March.”
And from Toronto, Canada’s largest city, No Plans to Dismantle Encampments as Advocates Call for Increased Support for Homeless: “’No encampment clearings are scheduled. We continue to offer people, on an individual basis, safe indoor space.’ The city has said previously that it will only clear encampments once everyone at that location has been offered safe indoor space and that a notice would then be issued to give people time to collect their belongings.”
Victoria’s situation is not unique. Our policy of not displacing people from encampments but rather working to identify needs and move people inside reflects the same practices as other city councils across the country.
Complex Care Housing Some of you have shared experiences of feeling unsafe when encountering unpredictable behaviours as you’re going about your daily life. We know there are people living in Victoria and in communities across British Columbia who have complex needs that aren’t been met by the existing housing available.
That why this week the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus which I co-chair with Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran met with both Ministers Eby (Housing) and Malcolmson (Mental Health and Addictions) to express our support for them to take action on complex care housing. Here is the statement we released on Friday and here is the Times Colonist coverage of the meeting. This statement addresses some of the concerns that you have shared with me this week and in past weeks.
Statement from B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus on Meetings with the Provincial Government to Develop a Complex Care Housing Pilot
Date: Friday, January 29, 2021 For Immediate Release
VICTORIA, BC – Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, co-chairs of the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus released the following statement following meetings this week with Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson to discuss strengthening mental health and substance use supports in the face of the ongoing homelessness and opioid crises.
“On behalf of the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus, we would like to thank the Ministers for meeting this week to begin to plan how we can work together to accelerate B.C.’s response to addressing the mental health, substance use and homelessness crises. It’s great to see the priorities laid out in our Blueprint for British Columbia’s Urban Future reflected in the Ministers’ mandate letters.
“We are seeing historic investments from the Province to build more affordable housing, which is serving the needs of many people in our communities. Yet even with this unprecedented effort, people with complex needs are falling through the cracks and aren’t being served by the supportive housing models and programs currently available.
“That’s why the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus wants to work with Ministers Eby, Malcolmson and the provincial government to develop a five-site pilot project for 40-50 unit Complex Care Housing sites within a year: one on the Island, one in the North, one in the Interior and two in the Lower Mainland.
“This five-site pilot project is the necessary first step in filling a gap in the continuum of housing and health care to meet the needs of vulnerable people who require mental health and substance use supports and services unique to their needs. Some of them may need extra supports on a pathway to recovery. Some of them may need to be in this kind of care longer term. This pilot project is an opportunity to learn on a small-scale, five-site basis and then – building on the learnings – to create additional sites in communities across the province.
“The challenges we are seeing in our communities are expanding faster than the solutions. Our vulnerable residents are at risk without proper health supports to meet their complex needs. Our residents and business owners are frustrated. And economic recovery from the pandemic will be compromised without action now. It’s time to try new approaches.
“As Mayors of B.C.’s largest urban centres, we look forward to working with the provincial government on this pilot and would like funding for it to be included in Budget 2021. We are here to help the Ministers and the Province make this pilot a success for all.”
Jann Arden’s Advice As always, I try to end with something to inspire us all. I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m feeling really tired. I went to bed at 9:30pm last night and set my alarm for 6:00am this morning as Sunday is my “catch up” day and there’s a lot of work to do. But I couldn’t pull myself out of bed until 8:00am. I’m tired of the pandemic and all the stress it’s putting on our community from our small businesses which are just holding on, to those who have lost their jobs, to those who are feeling isolated at home, to those who have no home to isolate in.
This is an excerpt from a post that singer Jann Arden shared on Facebook earlier on in the pandemic. It seems even more important now as we’re nearing the end. It is my Sunday offering to you all.
I suppose I could conjure up the voices of worry in my head. But I’m not going to. Worry is a liar. This little shard of history will fold over itself. It’s going to take some time. It will require patience and more than anything else, an enormous amount of kindness. Treat other people kindly. Take only what you need. Share what you have. Encourage others whenever you can. Be positive even when you’re not sure. Be determined. Be steadfast. Be careful. Smile when you pass a stranger on the street. We are not each other’s enemy, we are each other’s salvation. There is no life without a community of souls. We imperfect souls blazing through the universe in search of true love. A true love of ALL living things. Let us protect what we have left when this lifts. Let’s not go back. We have it in us to be so much more. BECOME THE PERSON YOU WERE MEANT TO BE.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. I want to make sure that you get a timely response to your email so I’m writing back to all of you at once. This also helps ensure that all the information I share here in response to various queries and comments is available as widely as possible. If you’d like to receive an email update every Sunday you can sign up here.
I can’t guarantee that I will directly address the precise concerns, questions or suggestions that each of you expressed in the 168 emails I received this week related to outdoor sheltering and homelessness. But I can promise that I’ve read each of your emails and will do my very best to address them. So that you don’t have to read this whole email (though I’d really love if you would!), I’ve divided it using headings. You can skip to the section you think best addresses your query or concern. I would lovingly request that you all take the time to read the first section, “Democracy at Work.” And, for those who are wondering how you can help, I’d also suggest the last section on the Transitional Tiny Home Community.
Democracy at Work One of the privileges of being the mayor is that I get a of a bird’s eye view of the community. And my email inbox this week is definitely part of that. I wish that all of you could see it. There are emails from those of you who think we are being way too harsh on people who are living without homes in our community. You’re calling on us to do more. And there are those of you who think we are way too easy on people who are homeless, that we should be much harsher, and that I only care about people who are homeless.
There are those of you who want us to leave the care tent that has been set up in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and who think that the City is acting too slowly. And there are those of you who are strongly opposed to a City-funded Community Care Tent being set up this weekend and early next week on Cook Street and think that the City is acting too quickly.
There are those of you who do not want any additional funding to go to VicPD to assist our bylaw officers in the parks. And there are those who want us to be stricter in enforcing the bylaws and wonder why we’re not doing more.
It’s a real honour to hear all of your perspectives. And that’s what they all are, they are perspectives. There is not one of you who is categorically “right”. And there is not one of you who is categorically “wrong.” The beauty of democracy is when we really listen to each other’s perspectives and try to find common ground.
What I understand from your emails – and what I see as common ground in all your perspectives – is that having people with nowhere to live but in parks, in the middle of a global health pandemic isn’t good for any of you. It’s not good for those of you who are living in parks. It’s not good for those of you who – like one person who wrote to me this week – are a paycheque awayfrom being homeless, struggling to feed their families, pay their bills, and keep themselves going, worried about living on their credit cards and when this is going to end. It’ s not good for those of you who live near or have a business near a park.
66 Days That’s why the City – in lock-step with Minster Eby, BC Housing and the provincial government – is working hard every day over the next 66 days, between now and March 31st, to ensure that everyone who is currently sheltering in a park will be offered a safe, secure indoor 24/7 sheltering opportunity with the supports they need. And then we will also end 24/7 camping in parks. If you’d like to learn more about how we plan to do this, you can scan my blog posts from August 30th. Or, if you’d like a more precise snap shot see my Sunday January 3 blog post and in particular the section “Indoor Shelteringand Approach to Consultation.”
Some of you wonder why this is taking so long and feel that March 31st is a long way away. Those of you living in a tent in the middle of the winter probably also feels this way. It’s taking long because each place to be opened requires some form of lease agreement or needs to be purchased. Each place to be opened requires a manager and trained staff. Each place to be opened requires health and in some cases mental health and substance use supports. In November, when Council set a deadline of March 31st to work with the Province to offer everyone an indoor space, all of this work began in earnest. Over the next 66 days, we will see this work start to come to fruition. To keep in touch as the work progresses, you can sign up here.
Community Care Tent I almost want to call this section “Community Care Tent Saga” as this is how it is starting to feel! In November, to fill social service gaps that were identified by those of you living outside and the front line workers serving you, Council created an emergency social services grant. One of the projects awarded in December was a Community Care Tent to be set up adjacent to Meegan/Beacon Hill Park to provide opportunities for people to warm up and receive emergency supports.
For a whole lot of reasons, the location for the Community Care Tent wasn’t finalized until this past Friday. For the next 66 days it will be located on Cook Street about 50m from Dallas Road so that humanitarian aid can be provided to people who are living in the park. There has been no consultation. It is cold out. People are living outside. People in the community want to help, to bring blankets and warm coats. The the tent has been set up temporarily to accommodate all of these needs. We will all need to do the best we can together over the next 66 days to make this emergency social service work.
Some of you have asked why this tent can’t be in the park, and/or why we can’t organize camping in the park at the gravel field in the southwest corner of the park. For those of you who have received these emails before, please feel free to skip the next paragraph!
Meegan/Beacon Hill Park is available – as are most other parks in the City per a 2009 Supreme Court decision securing the right to shelter – to members of the public who find themselves homeless to sleep in. Because of the Beacon Hill Trust, which dates back to the 1880s, the City cannot organize camping or social services in the park. That is why the Community Care Tent which is funded by the City is on Cook Street adjacent to the park. The City has to balance its responsibility as a Trustee of the park and do our part to ensure vulnerable residents can receive humanitarian aid in a global health pandemic.
Some of you have written today about the graffiti on the tent. The graffiti is unauthorized at this City-permitted and funded site and has now been covered up by the permit holders. Some of you have said that the graffiti and the whole issue of homelessness is dividing our community. Division is a choice. We have much more in common than that which separates us. To read more on this please head to my blog post from last Sunday and see the section, “Shared Suffering as Connection.”
The Community Caret tent will be run by the Red Cedar Cafe and will follow these guidelines:
Quiet Hours will be strictly enforced between 10:00 pm and 7:00 am
Two support workers will be on site at all times
During quiet hours, support services will be limited to: – Providing access to food or necessary survival supplies – Providing warm, safe temporary shelter for those who don’t have any camping gear or whose tents have been damaged, destroyed, collapsed, soaked or otherwise made unusable – Providing a safe space for people seeking distance from a partner or other person during conflict – Providing crisis response for people experiencing mental health crisis, employing de-escalation and conflict resolution skills, and facilitating connections to emergency mental health support services – Performing first aid and overdose response and connecting individuals with emergency services in the event of a medical emergency
During Daytime Hours (7:00 am – 10:00 pm) the Temporary Community Care Tent will provide the following additional support services: – Collecting donations from the public and distributing items such as tents, tarps, warm clothing and survival gear – Serving coffee, tea and food – Providing a space for people to warm up and dry off – Providing a connection to community through peer support, outreach and educational workshops
Covid-19 Public Health and Physical Distancing Guidelines will be enforced at all times
Failure to adhere strictly to these rules will result in the suspension of services at the Temporary Community Care Tent
If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please contact: Red Cedar Café, 778-817-0395 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.redcedarcafe.ca
Policing and Parks A number of you have written this week with objections to a proposed one-time amount of $75, 960 to VicPD to continue the work they have been doing with Bylaw in the parks since September. Some of you who have written simply object to more funding for police under any circumstances. Others say that we shouldn’t give money to police people who are homeless. And still others say that the money could be better used to support people who are homeless.
I agree with you – and I think many at VicPD would as well – that their job isn’t to police homelessness. And I wholeheartedly agree that we need to ensure that funding is available to take care of people who are living without homes. Even though housing is clearly a provincial and federal responsibility (whereas policing is clearly a municipal responsibility with no one else to pick up the bill), the City has spent millions of dollars over the past few years, and thousands of staff hours, helping to secure housing for people who need it.
Council also has a responsibility to keep our staff safe. In most circumstances our bylaw staff are just fine doing their rounds without police. They have gotten to know many of the people who are living outside well and have – all things considered – a pretty good rapport. But sometimes, challenging situations can arise. And that’s when it’s necessary for bylaw to be accompanied by police.
This is a one-time funding request that expires on March 31st. This is when everyone currently living in parks will be offered an indoor space as a pathway to permanent housing. And over the next 66 days between the Province, the City and the community, while an additional $75,000 is spent on policing, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars will be spent on housing and sheltering solutions. I hope this perspective helps.
Transitional Tiny Home Community Anonymous Matching Donor As always, I try to end with a dose of inspiration and a sense of hope. As many of you know, Aryze Developments and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness have come together to raise money to create a tiny home community at 940 Caledonia Road.
Many people who wrote this week asked Council to support this temporary housing solution. Others who live very close by to the site have some concerns. Before any final decision is made, Council will hold an opportunity for public comment at a Thursday evening Council meeting. Although, the provincial housing minister said he was prepared to overrule Council if there were any delays in approving the project. So we’re working with BC Housing and an operator to be announced soon to make it awesome for tiny home residents and also for nearby neighbours. More on all that soon.
But in the meantime, there is still close to $200,000 that needs to be raised. This past week the Coalition and Aryze received some very heart warming news. An anonymous donor has committed to matching every single dollar until the project reaches its $500,000 goal. Once again, I’m floored by the generosity in our community and how people are coming together to literally help build homes for their neighbours. If you have $10 to contribute, it now turns into $20. If you have $100, it turns into $200. Just like that! You can donate and learn more here. Please spread the word.
We’re almost through this. Sixty-six days until everyone outside in parks moves inside. The Province rolled out a vaccine plan on Friday with a realistic timeline for us all to get vaccinated. An end is in sight to the strict restrictions that are keeping us apart from friends and family. Some hope is on the horizon for those who have lost jobs and are facing economic hardship. A re-opening. We can get through these next few long and difficult months, together, all of us, as a community.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. Because we’re still receiving a high volume of emails about sheltering in parks, and so that you all get an answer from me in a timely way, I’m writing back to all of you together. I’ve been doing this every Sunday since August. If you’d like to receive an email to keep up to date as we work with the Province to offer 24/7 indoor sheltering and housing opportunities over the next 73 days, you can sign up here.
I use headings in the email, so that you can just skip to the part you’re interested in. I’ll begin with a housing and sheltering update, then talk about the Community Care Tent and Transitional Tiny Home Community, which many of you have written about this week. Then I’ll share a few of my own musings and some inspiration from Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen on how we might understand suffering – our own and that of others – as a way to connect and heal.
This will be a shorter email than usual (I hear some of you breathing a sigh of relief!) because I need to spend most of the weekend reviewing the feedback we received from Victorians on the City’s 2021 budget. We begin decision making on the budget Monday morning.
73 Days – Sheltering and Housing Update This week I felt more optimistic than ever about our work with the Province to offer everyone currently sheltering in parks a 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunity and ending 24/7 camping in parks as of March 31st. That’s 73 days from today.
My optimism comes from these media stories featuring our smart and passionate Housing Minister David Eby. He believes it’s possible to meet the March 31st goal. He says municipalities around the region also need to be part of the solution. And he notes that he’s prepared to use the Province’s land use paramountcy powers if necessary. Please take the time to watch and read. There’s a lot of detail about number of units needed, etc.
On Friday at the weekly Community Wellness Alliance Decampment Working Group meeting, I found still more cause for optimism. The December numbers show that 81 people moved through the housing continuum, including 42 people who were chronically homeless moving inside. The others who moved, moved from supportive housing into market units, or treatment, or new CRD housing, making room for the 42 to move in from outside.
This “positive flow” process that we’ve been working to set up since August seems to be working. The on-the-ground folks in Victoria from BC Housing assured me on Friday that all the processes are in place to continue this positive flow over the next 73 days to help make room for people to move inside from parks by the end of March.
Community Care Tentand Transitional Tiny Home Community This week many of you wrote supporting the Community Care Tent and the Transitional Tiny Home Community. You asked us to move quickly noting the suffering of people living outside. We also received many emails with concerns about the proposed Community Care Tent being installed on Avalon Street at Douglas. Council also had concerns about that location. At our meeting Thursday, in a 8-1 vote, we approved a grant of $6500 to the Red Cedar Cafe to run the tent, and directed staff to find a different location.
As I explained in my blog post last week, neither the City nor any organization can provide services in the park. Please head here to read more. The locations that staff will choose from are a provincially owned piece of land just north of Southgate Street, or a portion of the curbside along Cook Street between the parks yard and Dallas Rd. The most expedient location is the Cook Street one – because it is owned by the City – and this is likely where the care tent will go.
There has been no consultation. A cold snap is coming next week. And we’ve already had extraordinary rain fall this winter. Some volunteers with the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association Support Group for the Unhoused are supportive of the idea and have been working to help. But the Association itself has not taken a position. Councillor Andrew held an informal “town hall” last week at which a number of community members attended and shared their thoughts.
It is imperative that the Community Care Tent get up and running as soon as possible. The tent will be there until March 31st. There will be COVID-19 safety protocols in place, hours of operation and operating guidelines. It is called a Community Care Tent because volunteers in the community are coming together to help their unhoused neighbours. They need a location for donations and supplies to be dropped and for people to come and warm up.
This week Council, by unanimous vote, took the next step towards the creation of a Transitional Tiny Home Community proposed for 940 Caledonia Street. Aryze Developments, working with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, has crowd sourced $300,000 of the $500,000 needed to build 30 tiny homes. Council’s motion on Thursday gave permission for Aryze to apply for a Temporary Use Permit for 30 homes from March 31 2021 to September 30 2022.
Once city staff receive the application they will bring it to Council. Once Council has reviewed it we will invite the public to comment on it at a regular Thursday evening Council meeting before making a final decision. You can read the full Council report here. I feel proud of Council for taking this next step unanimously, even though there are lots of questions that still need answers over the next 73 days. And I feel so inspired that the community is pitching in to donate and build homes for their neighbours.
Shared Suffering As Connection One of my new year’s resolutions is to make my work as mayor part of my spiritual practice. I’m reading a wonderful book called, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Healby Rachel Naomi Remen, a medical doctor who works with cancer patients. I’m currently in a section of the book called, “Opening the Heart,” where she talks about shared suffering as a way to feel connected with each other.
On Saturday evenings as I read through all your emails to prepare this Sunday email, I feel deeply the separation of neighbours from each other, housed and unhoused. I’ve been asking myself why some people fear/dislike/express prejudice against people who are living without homes in our community. I think the root of it – subconsciously – is that to see our fellow humans so exposed, vulnerable, precarious, is really painful. And, also some of the actions resulting from this precarity impact some of you who live near parks where people are sheltering. So we build walls between us and them and close our hearts.
For those of you who are living without homes in city parks, this cutting off and disconnection is doubly painful. You are exposed, vulnerable, precarious. And then there is this additional feeling and experience of separation between you and many of your housed neighbours.
Rachel Naomi Remen offers us a path forward, an opportunity to heal:
“More and more, we seem to have become numb to the suffering of others and ashamed of our own suffering. Yet suffering is one the the universal conditions of being alive. We all suffer. We have become terribly vulnerable, not because we suffer, but because we have separated ourselves from each other …
“Perhaps the healing of the world rests on just this sort of shift in our way of seeing, a coming to know that in our suffering and our joy we are connected to one another with unbreakable and compelling human bonds. In that knowing, all of us become less vulnerable and alone.”
The root of the issue facing our community right now isn’t only that people are living in parks. It is a sense of disconnection, vulnerability, alone-ness. This makes sense given that we are 313 days into a global health pandemic where we’ve all been told to isolateas much as possible. My hope for all of us is that we can shift our way of seeing even just a little bit, and recognize that we are all – fundamentally – connected.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. In order to answer all your emails in a timely way and to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible, I write back to everyone all at once every Sunday. I’ll address your specific concerns as best I can and you’ll also learn about some of the concerns that others have and what we’re doing in response.
Many of you have asked some really good questions that I’ve answered in previous Sunday emails; these emails are all on my blog. What would be great if I don’t answer your exact question here – though I’ll do my best! – is to head to my blog and search for topic you’re looking for. You can do this by using the Command and “F” key at the same time and then searching for the word or words you’re looking for information on.
I’ve been writing every Sunday since August on the topic of housing, sheltering, parks and solutions so there’s lots of information available. If you’d like to receive weekly emails from me to keep you to date, you can also sign up here.
This email is organized by heading so you can just skip to the section where I address what you’ve written to me about if you don’t want to read the whole thing. I’ll start with the next 80 days and the plan to end parks sheltering by March 31 2021. Then I’ll talk about the Community Care Tent in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park. Next I’ll respond to concerns about parks sheltering more generally. Then I’ll share and respond to some of the suggestions you’ve made. Finally, as always at the end, I’ll share what I hope is a dose of humanity and inspiration. That’s always my favourite part so I hope you can skip to that if you can’t read the whole thing.
80 Days – There is A Plan Council has set a goal of working with the Province to offer everyone currently living in City parks a 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunity by March 31st. That is 80 days from today. When that happens, we will change the parks bylaw back to allow camping only from 7pm-7am as per a 2009 Supreme Court decision that secured the right to overnight shelter for people without homes.
On Friday morning, BC’s terrific new Housing Minister David Eby was interviewed by Gregor Craigie on CBC. He expressed his support for Victoria Council’s goal, said he thought March 31st was doable, and noted that we are all working together to make this happen. Please take the time to listen to his interview here.
We are still in a global health pandemic and in a provincially declared State of Emergency. We need to move quickly over the next 80 days to meet the goal, because people have been living outside for far too long already. Because we are in a State of Emergency and need to move quickly, some of the solutions will likely not have much public consultation, though we will do our best to keep the public informed.
As Minister Eby noted on CBC, there are currently approximately 191 structures in city parks. Some of them have more than one person living in them. This means that we need to create indoor sheltering solutions – and not just a mat on a floor – for over 200 people in the next 80 days. These spaces will come through rent supplements, tiny homes, new 24/7 indoor transitional sheltering opportunities, motel rooms, and a new Regional Housing First building that is opening in Langford in March.
There have been a couple of emails from nearby residents of the proposed Transitional Tiny Home Community concerned about this project. You can read the full report to Council here. I can assure residents that a wide search of publicly and privately owned properties around the city and the region was undertaken, including the land the City owns at 930 Pandora. That property will go through planning and then demolition as soon as possible and before September 2022 and is not a suitable location for the Transitional Tiny Home Community. The Transitional Tiny Home Community will be run by an experienced operator. There will be a formal opportunity for public comment at a Council meeting about the Transitional Tiny Home Community before Council would authorize a Temporary Use Permit.
To those of you who are still living outside in the middle of a global health pandemic, I hear your stories and I see your needs. We’re going to continue to do the very best we can to support the Province to create indoor spaces for you, spaces that are the transition to homes and the supports you’ve said you need. BC Housing will be prioritizing people who have filled out a BC Housing application. If you haven’t filled one out, flag down an outreach worker and ask for help. If you have someone to help you fill out a form they can find it here.
Community Care Tent This past week we’ve received a flood of emails from people who live on or near Avalon Street concerned about the proposal to install a Community Care Tent at Avalon and Douglas Street for the next 80 days. Thanks for writing and sharing your concerns. Some of you have asked why we can’t set up the tent on the gravel field in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park.
The Beacon Hill Trust dating back to 1882 governs the use of the park. People who are living without homes are also members of the public and can use Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and other city parks for sheltering as per the 2009 Supreme Court decision. However, the City – or anyone else – can’t organize encampments or services in the park as this would be seen to violate the Trust. Believe me, I’m as exasperated by this as all of you are, as the gravel field does seem like the easiest solution. But as our City Solicitor said to me when I came to him with my exasperation, we are the government; we cannot knowingly violate a law.
I’m glad I got your emails because when we discuss this at Council next week I can ask the questions that you’ve asked about access, parking, other routes for residents, safety of people crossing Douglas, hours of operation, COVID safety plans for the tent and so on. I think all of these questions are really good and need answers.
What I find harder to take are the emails telling me how ashamed of myself I should be for considering putting the Community Care Tent on Avalon Street. We are in a State of Emergency. There are seniors like Al (see his video below), living outside in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park. Yes there has been inadequate consultation. No Avalon Street is not the perfect location for a Community Care Tent. But surely we can all find it somewhere inside ourselves to hold it together for the next 80 days in a really rainy Victoria winter to accept a space where people can come in out of the rain to dry off and warm up.
Parks Sheltering and Other Concerns We have received a number of emails this week about Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and bylaw non-compliance. Our hardworking bylaw staff have been focused over the past weeks on Central Park, first to work to achieve compliance with the new bylaws that are meant to limit the number of people camping in each park, and more recently helping people to relocate in the wake of the flood.
Bylaw staff will be attending in all city parks this week and beyond working with people to come into compliance with the bylaws. They will also be helping to ensure that people have housing applications filled out so BC Housing can understand their needs and what kind of indoor shelter would be suitable.
Central Park has been closed entirely for remediation. Staff have been in contact with the North Park Neighbourhood Association to get their input into the remediation plans. Council will need to consider whether Central Park is an appropriate location for sheltering at all given the flooding potential; we will need to make this decision very soon given the number of rainy winter months still ahead.
Some of you have expressed concern that as part of Central Park remediation the City might somehow sneak back in plans for Crystal Pool at that location. I can say firmly that the redevelopment of Crystal Pool has been put on a back burner at this point and it is not in Council’s 2021 work plan. The City took advantage of the closure of recreation centres earlier in the pandemic and has done some much-needed repairs to the existing facility. It will re-open soon.
I’ve also heard concerns from people who use the tennis court at Oaklands Park and the playground in Vic West park that there are people camped too close to these facilities. Bylaw staff are in regular contact with people sheltering working to find a way forward and achieve compliance.
What your emails reveal – and this has been a theme throughout the pandemic – is that parks are for recreation not for living in. People need housing so that they don’t have to live in parks, so that parks can be used for recreation. It sounds so logical and simple really, but I can assure you from work on this issue daily, that it’s not an easy one to resolve.
I’ve received a few emails this week from people who earn a good living, work hard, and still can’t afford to rent or buy a home in Victoria. This is a real concern for myself and Council. That’s why in addition to all the work we’ve been doing to help end parks sheltering, our staff have been working hard to implement the Victoria Housing Strategy .
Recently we have undertaken the following initiatives:
Something I’m really excited about for 2021 is the Missing Middle housing work we are doing. A few of you inquired about that this week. Missing Middle housing is the gap between apartments or condos and single family homes. As we all know, Victoria is growing. Housing in our community must meet the needs of everyone including young people who want to work here, families who want to stay, and grandparents who want to be close to grandkids. We know from census data that Victoria continues to lose people as they enter their 30s, likely as a result of the lack of housing options that fit their incomes and ability to grow as a family.
Taking bold steps towards Missing Middle Housing means we’ll have more townhouses, row houses, houseplexes and other forms of what are called “ground oriented units” – homes where people can access the street directly from their front door – in our single family neighbourhoods. A Times Colonist article last week, Greater Victoria’s real estate inventory hits 25-year low, pushing prices up lays out the dire situation really clearly. If we want to make Victoria a place where families can afford to live and to grow, we need to support and incentivize the building of many more family homes in the tiny 20 square kilometre piece of land that the city occupies.
Your Suggestions Many this week have suggested organized camping in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park on the gravel lot, or opening the Cameron Bandshell. As noted above, the Beacon Hill Trust prohibits any form of organized activity in the park. This has been challenged and upheld in court. The City is currently back in court with the Friends of Beacon Hill Park who are suing the City to prevent camping of any sort in the park. As a Trustee, the City needs to adhere to the terms of the Trust.
Someone sent me this creative idea, which I’ll share here. We are undertaking something similar as part of the Victoria Housing Strategy and also part of the Victoria Climate Leadership Plan:
“I would also like to suggest some thinking outside of the box – I am involved with a neighbourhood climate action group. What if the City of Victoria’s Green Business department (https://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/business/sustainability-programs-for-businesses.html) liaised with big landlords and created custom energy saving plans for them and their buildings that would result in savings that could be used to allow them to offer reduced cost suites in their buildings so that people’s rental supplements/social assistance would be sufficient to afford them.”
Someone else wrote:
“I would like to see the city and province ask the federal government for a tract of land in Saanich and on that land the construction of 250 small one room cottages of simple design sloped roof, inside a small fridge freezer, a 2 burner induction range, a single sink on one wall a standing shower, a small vanity sink and toilet in a bathroom walled off in a corner, the heating/cooling should be done by means of geothermal heat exchange, all units can be heated/cooled by the same system running parallel say 4 separate systems only necessitating heat pumps smaller units in parallel for maximum efficiency, on demand water heaters, LED lighting, they should be Hardie plank exterior for esthetic appeal and maximum durability the colors switched up a bit as well as some units having transom windows others without windows should also be varied in type as well as exterior lighting fixtures will vary in design simple concrete pad, unit construction would be a cookie cutter design so production would be assembly line of sorts ,insulation should be of a closed cell type to simplify construction further as sewer, gas for on demand, water and heating is centralized cost should be low on a per unit basis.
“Housing of this type should be viewed not so much as permanent but a stepping stone toward integration into mainstream society and private housing. These types of homes should be allocated and prioritized toward those who are already within our community and where a cost/benefit structure resides.
“At the end of the day the only real possibility of closing the gap between homelessness and or poverty is thru reintegration not alienation.”
The model laid out here in terms of temporary transitional housing is exactly what is proposed for the Transitional Tiny Home Community that I shared above. It will be small scale – 30 people not 250 – and will be a place where people can come inside and get settled and have the supports they need to find their way towards more permanent housing, and, as the citizen who wrote so eloquently put it, “reintegration not alienation.”
Al’s Art and all the Others Out There A resident of Fairfield who lives adjacent to Meegan/Beacon Hill Park has gotten to know her un-housed neighbours. More than that, she’s been working with them on art and creative projects. She writes,
“I’ve collaborated with the Beacon Hill Park unhoused community to create MECA: Meegan Everyday Creativity Arts project. The individuals in Meegan need an opportunity to express and create. They are so excited for this project, and speak enthusiastically about it … Creative activity is a big part of how they process their big and small traumas.”
Here’s a video of Al showing her his very creative art work:
To Al and all of the others out there, I am humbled by your resilience. I want you to know that we’re working hard so that you won’t have to spend another winter in a tent, so that you’ll have the same safe, secure housing that myself and so many of the people who write to me every week enjoy. You are part of our community.
With humility and gratitude,
Lisa / Mayor Helps
P.S. Just before I was about to hit send on this email, someone sent me an email with a link to this young man, apparently currently living in a vehicle in Victoria, singing. In light of the resident’s comment above about the creativity of people living outside, I thought I’d include it here. Beautiful.
Thanks for your emails over the past few weeks. As those of you who are regular correspondents will know, I took a couple weeks break from writing Sunday emails. For those of you who are receiving a Sunday email for the first time, it’s because you’ve written in the past couple of weeks with questions, concerns, or ideas about outdoor sheltering, housing, or those without homes in our community.
In order to be efficient and also to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible, I answer all your emails here. I also post this email on my blog and have been doing so weekly since late August. If you want to stay in touch to learn about the work that the Province, federal government, City and community are doing to create indoor sheltering opportunities, you can follow my blog here. If you’d like to catch up on all the information you may have missed during the fall, you can start here in August and read to here in December. Do make a cup of tea as it’s a lot of reading!
In order to make it easy to read these lengthy emails, I use headings so you can skip to what you’re interested in. Today I’ll begin with a pressing issue which many of you wrote about – the flood response in Central Park. Then I’ll give a general update on indoor sheltering and approach to consultation over the next few months. Next I’ll address your questions, concerns and suggestions. Finally, in a section called “Christmas Oranges,” I outline acts of extreme generosity and kindness I witnessed over the holiday season. If you’ve got the time I encourage you to read the whole email.
Flood response in Central Park On the morning of December 23rd, the people living in Central Park awoke to their tents and belongings under water. Many of you wrote concerned about their fate. In some of those emails you called on the Province to reopen the Save on Foods Memorial Arena as a shelter and to take other immediate actions. I want to assure you that our colleagues at BC Housing haven’t stopped working on options over the holidays.
A group of faith leaders from a range of faiths got together and emailed this letter to City Council and provincial officials:
Dear Elected Leadership – in this Season of HOPE,
We are writing to you as a broad based diverse coalition of South Island clergy who represent thousands of concerned congregants.
We first want to acknowledge, in gratitude, how much work and energy that British Columbia Housing, and you, our local leadership are doing throughout this pandemic to secure shelter options for the unhoused in our community. The size and scope of the challenge feels daunting at present and we are thankful that our current Provincial government and Victoria’s local mayor and council are strong advocates for our unhoused siblings.
We also acknowledge that what is being accomplished at present is simply not enough.
Shelter needs to be recognized as a basic human right. Housing is a prime determinant of health and now in the midst of a pandemic and extreme weather conditions we are in a crisis. Those who try to serve the homeless are exhausted dealing with battered tents, floods, snow and ice.
On behalf of our congregations of Victoria, who are waking up to this crisis and wake up at night during these extreme weather conditions, and care about those who have no homes to “isolate” from Covid-19, this winter, we ask you to please do whatever is possible to provide immediate indoor shelter for those who need and want to relocate from the parks.
We fully recognize that in the midst of this emergency there is no time to worry about nimbyism. We understand that the limited solutions that we currently hold have costs and discomforts. We recognize that temporary indoor housing is not a long term solution to end homelessness.
We ask that you make bold and immediate decisions to literally get our homeless siblings out of the mud. We must do this before we are all held accountable for a death that occurs through exposure.
Those currently suffering cannot afford to wait. Please let us know how our congregations can be a part of the solution. Shelter is essential to human life and dignity for the vulnerable who are parts of the sacred fabric of our community.
Let us act swiftly, In peace,
Faith Leaders of Victoria BC
Many people leapt into action to help after the flood, from City staff, BC Housing, the North Park Neighbourhood Association (more on this below), the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Emergency Weather Protocol and others. Within a few days, people were relocated to a drier area a block away at the Royal Athletic Park (RAP) parking lot. While this is better than living in a flooded park, it is not good enough in a country as prosperous as Canada in the middle of a global health pandemic. Hence the hard work needed in the next 90 days to move people indoors (more on this below).
And it’s not only BC Housing, Island Health, housing and social service providers and city officials who are going to need to work hard. It is all of us. To the faith leaders, and all the others who wrote demanding action – thank you for your care, concern and commitment. You can help by:
Continuing to speak of our “unhoused siblings” reminding everyone that people living without homes are our fellow humans, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters
Offering up church parking lots or other church properties for Conestoga Huts (more on this below)
Sponsoring someone to move into a market rental unit by helping to close the gap between a rent supplement ($825 per month) and market rent for a bachelor or one-bedroom
Indoor Shelteringand Approach to Consultation As hopefully everyone is aware, City Council passed a motion in November that set a date of March 31st 2021 to end 24/7 camping in parks. Since we are still in the middle of a global health pandemic and a Provincial State of Emergency where “stay at home” has been key medical advice, Council’s willingness to end 24/7 camping is contingent on everyone currently living outdoors in a park being offered a 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunity.
With the deadline of March 31st set, BC Housing and Island Health are providing a monthly update on the number of people who move indoors. The first report was December 15th for the month of November when 37 people living outside or on the brink of doing so were moved indoors with the supports and care that they needed. This is a good start.
Over the next three months, working together, we need to secure close to 200 spots for everyone still out there as the rain falls and the wind blows. Not all of these 200 spaces will be permanent housing right away. We’ll need to rely on a combination of:
Market rental units – 80-ish rent supplements available for those currently living in supportive housing who are ready to move into the private market, freeing up their units for people who need supports as they move indoors
Motel rooms – Capital City Centre will be repaired from the fire as of mid-January with approximately 30 spaces available
The Save on Foods Memorial Arena – the Province is in negotiations with GSL properties (which operates the arena) as well as with a potential shelter operator to open 48 shelter spaces
Other temporary indoor sheltering locations being explored to make up the rest
That’s a potential total of 218 spaces. Few of these are secured at this time. It’s going to take an enormous effort in the next 90 days to create them.
It’s also going to mean that in terms of consultation with the community we’ll be on the “inform” end of the International Association for Public Participation spectrum. This means we’ll be sharing information with the public as sheltering opportunities become available rather than consulting in advance. I know this is difficult for some people to hear. But for the past 10 months we’ve received thousands of emails asking us to get people out of parks; there is clearly a community consensus that living inside is better for everyone than having people living in parks.
Your questions, concerns and suggestions I wish that you could all see my email inbox! There’s such a mix of messages in it. Some of you write on a regular basis with photos of people’s shelters asking bylaw to attend and enforce. Bylaw staff are doing their best to attend as many parks as possible on a regular basis. One person even sent photos of someone nodding off at a table at Tim Horton’s, coffee cup in hand, and asked me why that person wasn’t removed. I know how I would feel having my picture snapped by strangers on a regular basis.
Many people have also made suggestions about indoor sheltering locations – Ogden Point, Crystal Pool, the Armouries, the Old Canadian Tire on Douglas Street, Oak Bay Lodge. All of these have been explored and deemed unsuitable or unavailable for various reasons.
There are those of you who express a great deal of compassion for people who are struggling and also outline your own challenges with increased break ins and need for more policing. I will support the police budget this year as I have every year, and agree the police need additional resources; our officers are doing their very best in really difficult circumstances. I’m also very supportive of an alternative response that’s being co-created by the City and an alliance with the community through the City’s Community Wellness Task Force along with Island Health and VicPD, where a civilian-led team will respond for mental health-related calls so police don’t need to attend.
Some of you sent a link to a documentary about homelessness in Seattle requesting that I watch it. I watched parts of it. My feeling is that like so much of what’s online these days, it was provocative, polarizing and seemed to sow divisions – more “us and them” – rather than bringing people together and exploring the complexity of homelessness, drug addiction, crime, and inequality in the context of a global health pandemic.
For those of you who sent the documentary to me, worried about Victoria’s soul and the state of the city, please take the time to read this recent Monocole article where in November 2020, Victoria was named one of the top five small cities in the world to live. And, of course no city is ever perfect and we’re all working hard to address the challenges facing us.
Others of you in Fairfield are working to support people living Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and want the City to do more and act more quickly to assist in getting the Community Care Tent up and running. Staff have been working with the community on this since Council approved the grant for the care tent. Hopefully something will be up and running soon. I thank those of you who are part of the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association Support Group for the Unhoused for your hard work and your kindness.
Some of you have asked why we don’t move everyone in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park to the gravel area in the southwest corner. As I’ve noted in previous posts, the Beacon Hill Trust – which the City is currently being taken to court over by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park who want to stop all camping in the park – prevents organized activities in the park. The City organizing a campsite in the park does not fit with the terms of the Trust.
Some of you have pointed to the few people with Alberta licence plates staying in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and asked what we will do about these “Snowbird Campers”. While we can’t inhibit people’s charter right to freedom of movement, BC Housing is prioritizing people for housing who are most vulnerable and who have been homeless for a significant time. This criteria will tend to focus on people who are from here and who are known to BC Housing and service providers.
Finally, a number of you have sent this link to Conestoga Huts and suggested that we pursue this solution.
The website that some of you sent says that, “Conestoga Huts are not designed to keep people as warm as one would experience in a conventional style dwelling, though they are warmer and more substantial than sleeping in a recreational tent or unprotected in the elements.”
The City, Province and BC Housing need to stay laser focused for the next 90 and beyond to create indoor sheltering solutions that will lead to safe, secure, affordable housing with supports, as needed. We can’t put our energy into creating or siting these huts at this time. However, as noted above, there may be opportunities for the faith community and others in the community to create these low-cost interim solutions on private property. If you’re interested in helping please email me email@example.com with “Conestoga Huts” in the subject line and I will connect you with a group that is forming to work on this.
Christmas Orangesand Other Acts of Generosity As those of you who receive my emails on a regular basis know, I go for long runs on Sunday mornings. It helps me to think, clear my head, and see the city. The Sunday before Christmas on my run through Beacon Hill Park, I saw a Fairfield couple walking through the park with a box of Christmas oranges. They were calling to people in tents, who emerged, wary. And as they did, the couple tossed Christmas oranges their way with smiles and kind words.
I slowed as I noticed this, tears in my eyes as I thanked the couple. After everything. Here were these two lovely people out for their regular Sunday morning stroll, extending such a simple kindness to their unhoused neighbours.
And this isn’t all. When the flood hit in Central Park, the North Park Neighbourhood Association and dozens of North Park residents stepped up to help. They spent hundreds of hours over their holidays building platforms for tents, procuring tents, sleeping bags and other necessities. One nearby resident even set up a laundry sign-up sheet for people in the RAP parking lot with slots every two hours and planned to spend her holiday doing people’s laundry.
While some people may be worried about Victoria’s “soul” or the direction the city is going, I’m not. And it’s not because I have my head in the sand – my eyes are wide open to all the challenges that we’re facing. But what I know for sure is that Victoria has the grace, determination and the open-hearted approach that a community needs to tackle these challenges head on.
Thanks so much for your emails this past week. In keeping with my Sunday tradition, I’m writing back to all of you at once so that everyone’s emails get answered in a timely way and so that everyone has as much information as possible about sheltering, housing and other related matters. If you’d like to receive an email each week you can sign up here. If you’re interested in reading back through the Sunday emails to get caught up on the issues, you can also do so here.
Tiny Homes Before I dive in specifically to address your concerns from this week, I did want to share an exciting project which was inspired in part by the many emails I’ve received over the past few months suggesting that we build tiny homes for people who are currently homeless. This week, Aryze Developments and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness launched the Hey Neighbour tiny home campaign. They are raising $500,000 to build 30 temporary tiny homes to get people out of the weather as soon as possible. A site has yet to be confirmed; there are a number of options being explored.
Thanks for the good idea over the past few months! And to those of you who have written this week with suggestions for how the Tiny Home village could work, thank you. I’ll pass them along.
In just the first five days of the campaign they’ve raised $122,000. Charitable tax receipts are available through the Coalition. If you’re interested in learning more or donating you can head here.
Your Questions and Concerns Addressed I’ve received emails this week from people who live near Central Park, Meegan/Beacon Hill Park, Gonzales Park, Vic West Park and Cecilia Ravine and from people who use Beacon Hill Park on a regular basis. You all sound like you’re at a breaking point – your frustration and anger come through loud and clear. You want things fixed. You want your parks back. You want to know what we are going to do. In some cases you are fearful, in others you say you’re just tired of the hassle of people camping in our parks. You want to know why it seems that bylaws aren’t being enforced. And why there is so much garbage everywhere. You also want to know why we can’t just have everyone in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park congregate at the gravel field.
I’m afraid that I don’t have many good answers to your questions, which I’m sure is not what you want to hear. We are in the middle of global health pandemic. It’s been over 280 days since the pandemic was declared; living like this is clearly weighing on all of us. We can’t see our friends or loved ones. Life is totally upside down. And on top of that, our much loved parks are full of people who have nowhere to go. And they really do have nowhere to go.
Our bylaw, public works and parks staff are out in the parks on a daily basis cleaning up and working to bring people into compliance with the bylaws. It is not easy work and they are doing their best. There are over 170 people camping in seven or eight parks so that’s a lot of people to connect with on a daily basis.
As for Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and concentrating everyone on the gravel field: We know from past experience that large, concentrated encampments don’t work for the people living in them or for the nearby neighbours. But also, as I’ve noted in previous emails / posts, even if we wanted to organize a camping service in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park, the Beacon Hill Trust, dating back to the 1880s prevents any organized service provision in the park. Again, probably not what you want to hear.
I jogged through Meegan/Beacon Hill Park this morning and I did see quite a few tents, and some sites in disarray with some belongings strewn everywhere. And I heard one person yelling and swearing. And honestly – and you might not like this either – what I thought to myself re: the belongings strewn everywhere is, “Well, I’ve got lots of extra belongings too and thankfully I have a basement to store them in.” And when I heard the person yelling, I thought how terrible it would be to have your yelling heard by everyone like that, whereas when most of us yell, it’s in the privacy of the four walls of our homes.
I’m not saying these things to say that everyone should think like me; I am just really wanting to illustrate that there are a variety of perspectives possible about the same situation. And that listening to and understanding these various perspectives is what creates a healthy community and democracy.
I do hear your perspectives and your concerns. That’s why we’ve set a realistic deadline of March 31 2021 to work with the Province and support them in offering people indoor spaces and ending 24/7 camping in all of our parks. Each week small progress is made moving people from outside to inside. But the progress is slow. All 60 units renting at $375 per month in the new buildings in Langford and View Royal have been filled, mostly by people living in supportive housing. This means that there are now – or will soon be – vacancies available for people living in shelters or parks to move into.
BC Housing has used 15 of the 60 rent supplements they have available, which means there are still 45 subsides left. Island Health has about the same number remaining. As I’ve said in past emails, with $375 income assisance shelter rate plus $450 for a rent supplement, the total available is well below market rent in the region. We’re still working creatively to fill that funding gap.
There are still spaces available at the New Roads Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal; a few people are moving in there each week. And there’s a space for about 30 youth that will be opening soon. And there are the 30 tiny homes. We will need the Province to open some more spaces, or top up the rent supplements further, or both, to achieve the goal of moving people inside by March 31st. But please know that there is a plan and everyone I know who works in the housing and outreach field and provincial ministers and staff are working hard to make it happen. Almost all of the people living in the parks have filled out housing applications or indicated their desire to move inside.
It is clear, as I’ve said before – and with this I think you would agree – that having people living in parks isn’t good for anyone, not the people living there or the people living nearby.
A few of you have written this week with concern for the youth who are gathering under the Johnson Street Bridge. You’re concerned about their health and well-being but also about the fact that they’re gathering at all when we’ve all been told to stay home. To be honest, I don’t know whether many of these kids have homes. But in response to your emails, I will ensure that the youth homelessness team at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness connects with these kids, if they haven’t already, to see what kind of supports might be needed.
And finally, there have been some questions over the past few weeks about why there are no people camping in parks near where I live. Camping is allowed in Stevenson Park behind the Fernwood Commuity Centre. But unlike the parks where we’ve directed people for camping* it does not have a washroom. In early September, a motion was made at the Council table to prohibit camping within 100m of schools (instead of the 50m that was proposed). Even though the parents at South Park School wanted a buffer of 100m from their school, if I had voted for this 100m buffer, that would have also meant banning parking in Stevenson Park, so I voted against it, which kept Stevenson Park on the list and available for camping.
When schools closed earlier in the pandemic, I also suggested using Vic High (I live two doors down) as a shelter. This didn’t pan out because of the impending construction. I also suggested that the vacant land behind Vic High might be good for sheltering, but this too will soon be under construction. What is proposed to be built there is 154 units of affordable housing, including 20% of units that will rent at $375 per month and are for people coming out of homelessness or out of supportive housing. I look forward to welcoming my new neighbours, should Council approve the development to go forward.
By-Election Results and City Budget I wanted to also share the by-elections results with all of you, in case you hadn’t heard. Last night Stephen Andrew was elected to fill the ninth seat on Victoria Council which has been vacant since August 2019 when Laurel Collins left to run for MP. I spoke with Stephen last night to congratulate him and to let him know I’m looking forward to working with him. It will be good to have nine of us at the table again. Being shorthanded for this long has meant extra work for the rest of us. It has also meant a few tie votes on key items, and motions fail on a tie.
In addition to helping our new colleague settle in, a key decision on the horizon is the 2021 budget. Council reviewed the draft budget in great detail in November and asked many questions of staff through motion that we’ll get a report back on in January. Now, it’s time for you to weigh in! Staff have created a really great budget survey this year – more direct and user friendly than in past years. The survey results will help to guide Council’s decision on the final budget in the new year.
All of you who have written to me – and those who read these weekly posts – obviously care deeply about our city. The budget is the most important decision Council makes each year. So a final piece of holiday homework from me is a request that you take the time to fill out the budget survey. With my thanks in advance.
Happy Holidays This will be my last Sunday email / blog post of 2020. I’m going to take the next few Sundays and hopefully a few more days than that of quiet time and rest. Your emails will be gathered up and I’ll respond to them on Sunday January 3rd.
It’s been quite the year for all of us in Victoria, BC, Canada, and the world. As we awoke on January 1 2020, COVID-19 was a world away and few could have anticipated the toll it would take this year on our seniors, health care workers, small businesses, governments, and on each and every one of us. No one is exempt, everyone has been impacted, although not everyone has been impacted equally.
Seniors in care homes have been most vulnerable, with the majority of deaths in BC taking place in those settings. Women, youth, people of colour and Indigenous people working in low-paying service jobs that were the first to be cut have suffered economically. Our beloved small businesses were hit disproportionately hard. And of course, as oft discussed here in Victoria and in cities across the country and around the world, when everyone was told to “stay at home”, those who didn’t have homes really stood out, as they were left outside.
2021 will be year of hard work and recovery. And as we implement both the regional Reboot Strategy as well as Victoria 3.0 our job – as a whole community, province and country – is to leave no one behind.
I wish you and your loved ones a safe, socially distanced, but close-in-heart holiday season.
With love, Lisa / Mayor Helps
*With the exception of Central Park – in that instance people showed up there and we had to adapt to the circumstances and provide washrooms and running water.
Thanks, as always, to everyone who took the time to write to me this week. I appreciate hearing your ideas, insights, complaints and frustrations. As usual, I’m responding to everyone together – on the one hand, for efficiency, but on the other, to ensure that as many people as possible have answers to the questions and concerns that people are raising.
If you’d like to stay in touch on a weekly basis, you can sign up to receive the weekly email here. If you’d like to look back over the past few months on information I’ve shared with respect to parks sheltering, housing and related matters, you can do so here. The posts are categorized by topic.
Housing Update As noted in today’s Times Colonist article, Hotel Fire Delays Efforts to House People Without Homes in Victoria, we are not going to meet our original goal of helping 200 people move inside by the end of the year. Since August, the Community Wellness Alliance Decampment Working Group, comprised of BC Housing, Island Health, the City, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and Our Place, has been working hard to identify transitional and supportive housing units and to move people in. The Times Colonist article lays out the challenges really well and I’d love if you take the time to read it.
The good news is, that this week I spoke to both the new Housing Minister as well as to Victoria’s new MLA Grace Lore and both expressed a commitment to help meet Victoria’s goal of moving people inside by the end of March 2021. This is going to be an enormous challenge and it’s going to take all of us, working together to make it happen. And we will!
Impacts of Sheltering in Parks A few of you have written to me this week concerned about the impacts of people sheltering in parks. One extremely thoughtful email from a North Park resident outlined challenges facing both housed and unhoused neighbourhood residents in North Park. I want to share some of the thoughtful and detailed analysis from that email here:
“According to 2016 Census statistics for North Park:
57% of residents live in 5+ storey apartment buildings,
28% are considered low income,
21% are racialized,
4% are recent immigrants,
28% of children (0-17) live in poverty, and
36% of seniors (65+) live in poverty.
North Park is ranked the most financially vulnerable of 78 neighbourhoods in the CRD
“Since May, when the City of Victoria relaxed bylaws to allow continuous sheltering in light of public health recommendations, Central Park, located in the heart of North Park, has experienced the highest concentration of outdoor sheltering in the city. North Park has been working collaboratively and compassionately for months to advocate for the needs of those sheltering while also balancing the needs of housed community members: primarily, access to Central Park – a well loved, and much needed community amenity.
“North Park is considered a ‘park deficient’ neighbourhood with only 1.23 hectares/1000 residents compared to the City average of 3.16 hectares/1000 residents. However, the actual amount of green space is much, much lower when taking into account sheltering taking place in Central Park, as well as the fact that Royal Athletic Park – which makes up about half of North Park’s greenspace – is a fenced, regional facility.”
The writer had also copied many provincial officials and requested that the Province work with the City to house people by March 31st with the supports they need so that they are taken care of and so that the neighbourhood can have its much-needed and much loved park back.
Another North Park resident wrote thanking me for these weekly emails (you’re welcome) but frustrated by the fencing that had gone up in the park without notice, that created confusion and had the effect of moving people sheltering closer to the playground. We hear you. Bylaw staff were in the Central Park all week working with people there to relocate to other parks in the short term until we can find places for them inside. There are so many needs to balance and nothing about the situation is straightforward.
I’ve also received emails from Fairfield residents this week who live near parks where a small number of people are sheltering, likely having moved recently from Central Park. They have written noting the impact that one or two tents are having in their neighbourhood with respect to feelings of safety, not feeling like they can open the blinds etc. We hear you too.
All of these emails reveal how challenging homelessness is for everyone. A writer asked why Council cares more about people who are living without homes than tax paying residents. What I know from the volume of emails received each week concerning parks sheltering, is that if people who are currently sheltering outside move inside and out of parks, everyone benefits. That’s why we’re working so hard on the issue.
Downtown From some of the emails I’ve received over the past few months, from a daily morning show diatribe against pretty much everything the City does, and from reports I’ve been given about some local social media echo chambers, I have to admit, I was getting pretty worried about downtown. I’ve been spending most of my time at City Hall buried in Zoom and Teams meetings, working on the future of the city and recovery from the pandemic and haven’t looked up in awhile.
But Saturday, I went downtown for pleasure. And it was a pleasure! There were people everywhere – most masked and physically distant. Our amazing local businesses were bustling. A couple of retail vacancies I’d noticed a few months ago were now full with new businesses. We’re not through this pandemic yet, and our local businesses need us more than ever. One of the best ways we can help them is to, collectively, tell a more positive, more realistic story about downtown Victoria.
“I read two letters in the Times Colonist. The first was an uplifting account of walking through Beacon Hill Park. As a neighbour to the park myself, I agree with the writer completely!
“My life has ‘not been ruined’ with proximity to the park. It is a fantastic space, for walking, admiring the trees and nature. The tents that we all see do not frighten me. I feel only sadness for those forced to live this way.
“The other letter was about a Victoria I don’t know. The writer claimed that ‘our parks system has been largely ruined, the downtown is dying and the whole city is a more unsafe and sinister place.’
“Wow. This is a description I don’t recognize. I work downtown and am there at 6:30 or 7 in the morning. The City is hosing down and washing the streets. It is not dirty. I walk past all the amazing and vibrant restaurants and businesses. I talk to the street people and they talk to me. It is not sinister or unsafe.
“These are our fellow human beings. That person was a little boy or girl once too. Listen to their stories and what they will tell you. When you really look and listen I believe your thoughts might change.
Your Suggestions Each week I get emails with creative suggestions for addressing homelessness. This week someone wrote and suggested using empty schools for this purpose. Victoria’s population of young families is growing, and any schools that are currently vacant are under redevelopment or refurbishment to get them ready to receive students. Someone else suggested building a tiny home village like this one in Seattle for women. Stay tuned; there will be more coming on this idea soon!
About Everything Else A few weeks ago I started to share some of the projects the City is working on in addition to sheltering and housing, so that you’d know we’re working hard on lots of fronts. I’ll be brief here this week because I feel like I’ve already written a lot – which means you’ve read a lot!
“The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete.”
In the long-term, the impacts of climate on our economy and community well-being may dwarf those currently being felt as a result of COVID-19.
In 2018 the City adopted a Climate Leadership Plan to take action on climate change mitigation (actions to stop climate change) and adaptation (actions to adapt to a changing climate). We did this because we know that climate change will negatively impact our community’s well-being and our local economy. I know between my post last week and this week, I’m loading you up with lots of holiday reading. In addition to Victoria 3.0, I’d love if you’d take the holidays to read the Climate Leadership Plan.
The reason for my reading request, is that we just got our first Climate Progress Report. And while we’re doing well corporately and are on track with city operations to meet our 2025, 2030 and 2050 goals, as a community we’re falling behind. The City’s corporate greenhouse gas emissions are only 1% of the total. The other 99% are generated in the community through buildings, transportation and waste.
Just as Minister Dix and Dr. Henry remind us on a regular basis that beating COVID-19 takes every single one of us, so too with climate change. It would be great if you could have a read through the Climate Leadership Plan and the Progress Report and find just one action in there – large or small that you can take at home, in your workplace, school, community group etc.