Let’s Not Let the Issue of Homelessness Divide Us

These are photos of new modular housing on Hillside Ave called Spa’qun House opening soon for Aboriginal women experiencing homelessness and run by the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness. Too often when people write about Beacon Hill Park, or other sites where people are living outdoors, they show pictures of people camping rather than the solution: safe, secure, affordable housing.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, British Columbians have been guided by the calm and thoughtful advice of Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. Following her advice and working together, we’ve flattened the curve. Yet, while it may be starting to feel as if COVID-19 is behind us with the city opening up, Dr. Henry cautioned recently, “The pandemic is far from over.”

When the pandemic hit, shelters for people experiencing homelessness closed or cut their numbers to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. This reduced capacity, combined with the closure of other services, meant that the only option left for many people was to sleep outside.

At that time, the City made a decision to allow people to leave their tents up during the day in order to help people who had no homes follow the doctor’s orders and “stay at home.” As I’m learning from participating in a National Working Group on Homelessness and Housing in COVID-19, cities across the country are finding themselves in similar situations. We are not alone in this challenge.

Encampments are growing in size and number across the country, as an outcome of the pandemic. And cities are struggling to manage the inflow of people into encampments and responding to the additional concerns of large tent cities.

In British Columbia, the provincial government stepped up in a big way. In a six-week period they provided indoor sheltering, medical care, and other supports to hundreds of people. Yet there are still hundreds left behind, living outside. Many of them are in Beacon Hill Park with others camped outside our offices at City Hall.

We’ve received hundreds of emails, a petition, and social media rallying cries to remove people camping in Beacon Hill Park. The writers and petitioners want the park for much-needed recreation after many weeks of self-isolation and staying inside. They are also worried about the Garry Oak meadows, the camas fields, and the sensitive ecosystems. I am too.

I’m also worried about the majority of Victorians who are renters, many of whom don’t have backyards and therefore count on parks and greenspaces for recreation and exercise. And, a significant portion of Victoria’s renters are lower-income families; they can’t afford to take their kids to Parksville or Qualicum this summer. Picnics and play dates in Beacon Hill Park are their summer vacations.

It’s an impossible situation to navigate, balancing all these needs in a public health emergency. And so, as we all have many times in the past months, we turn to Dr. Henry for advice and guidance.

On June 8th, Dr. Henry wrote to Mayors, Regional District Chairs and CAOs with Guidelines and Best Practices for Response to Homeless Encampment Health Issues in the Context of COVID-19. She said, “These guidelines also consider how local governments can help support and reduce health and safety risks for vulnerable groups through discretion in bylaw enforcement, provision of outreach and supports and by partnering to provide harm reduction, mental health and addictions services.”

The guidelines clearly state that, “Local governments can help support people experiencing homelessness to reduce health risks and to improve access to essential services, supplies and supports. This may include looking at any bylaws that require people experiencing homelessness to move or leave safe shelter, be that a park or vehicle. Clearing or moving encampments without providing shelter or housing immediately can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers.”

This means that we will likely have people camping in parks until the pandemic is over, Dr. Henry gives us updated advice, or more indoor sheltering locations can be secured.

Of course, in the calm and kind manner we’ve all come to expect from her, the guidelines also speak to the need for certain ground rules to be in place for everyone’s safety, and for camping to happen in appropriate places.

As the petitioners rightly point out, areas with sensitive ecosystems in Beacon Hill Park are not appropriate. This means that people must move from the ecologically sensitive areas to other parts of Beacon Hill Park, or other parks. Some are starting to do so.

What can we all do help in these unprecedented times?  We can thank the provincial government for their significant investment, and we can ask the federal government to match it to purchase more motels. We can ask all local governments in the CRD to work with the Province to build permanent, purpose built modular housing with supports, as pictured above. We’re going to need hundreds of units.

And most of all, we can be calm and be kind. The pandemic is far from over. Rather than let the challenge of homelessness divide us, we need to continue to come together as a community ­to get through it.

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Participatory Budgeting and Everyday Creativity Grants Help Residents #buildbackbetter

Update on City’s COVID-19 response and recovery. Video from Friday, June 26 2020.

The Province has announced Phase 3 of its ReStart Plan, which allows for “safe and smart travel” within BC and the re-opening of more hotels and resorts. Destination Greater Victoria is also promoting wide open spaces and places in Victoria, and ideas for what visitors from other parts of the province can do when visiting the Capital City. For more information, visit them here.

This is really good news for Victoria as tourism is a key element of our economy, particularly during the summer months. Destination Greater Victoria is doing some amazing work in re-thinking what tourism looks like in Victoria and I encourage everyone to be a tourist in our own home town – to check out some of the things you haven’t yet checked out and explore places you haven’t yet explored.

The federal and provincial governments recently committed $20 million to match the Capital Regional District’s contribution of $10 million for the Regional Housing First Program which is on track to have more than 1,800 affordable housing units completed or under construction in Greater Victoria by the end of 2022. The units will be a mixture of shelter-rate, affordable rental, and near-market rental – all of which are needed in the region.

We’re grateful to the provincial and federal governments and the Capital Regional District for their investments in the Regional Housing First program. This unprecedented program was made possible by all municipalities participating and is exactly the kind of cooperation we need to address housing affordability and homelessness across the region.

At last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, based on public health advice, Council voted to allow people without homes to keep their tents up in permitted sheltering areas in the city until further advice is received by Dr. Bonnie Henry.

This is a temporary measure due to COVID-19. Services and shelters have been severely reduced and people without homes literally have nowhere to go during the day. I’d like to ask for patience and understanding, recognizing that we are still in the middle of a global health pandemic. Victoria is not alone. We need to work together and advocate to the provincial and particularly the federal government for more housing solutions.

Last Thursday, Council approved the Everyday Creativity Grant, a new, one-time grant aimed at increasing access for everyone to be creative through the arts and improve mental and physical health. Non-profit organizations or people partnering with non-profits are invited to submit ideas for engaging people to be creative and participate in the arts. Projects with an emphasis on learning, creative expression and broad public participation are eligible and grants range from $500 to $5,000. Information on how to apply will be available next week.

The City’s Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee is seeking proposals for the 2020 Participatory Budgeting initiative, which will see $50,000 invested in projects benefiting new immigrants and refugees in Victoria. Anyone with an idea for a project or activity that will enhance or enrich the lives of newcomers in the  community is invited to apply online at here by 4 p.m. on July 31, 2020.

If you have an idea or are curious about the participatory budgeting process and want to know more, two virtual open houses will be held on July 7 and 11 where you can learn all about it.  I’m curious to see which projects our residents think are important.

To date, under the Build Back Victoria initiative, the City has received 55 applications for new patios or flex spaces, 28 of which have been approved and 16 are in progress. Build Back Victoria initiatives support local businesses during their re-opening and recovery from the pandemic by providing public spaces for private use. Spaces on sidewalks, on streets, in parking spaces, and in plazas and parks are temporarily being made available for businesses to expand their footprint to safely conduct commercial activities.

These applications are coming from all over the city – downtown, James Bay, Fernwood, Hillside-Quadra. It’s great to see more space being created for businesses. We really need to do what we can to help businesses through this very challenging time. And it’s great for us, their loyal customers.

The community is invited to watch Victoria’s Canada Day, a virtual celebration on July 1 at 7 p.m. on CHEK for an impressive line-up of diverse, multicultural performances and community content. The one-hour, commercial free broadcast will also be streamed on canadadayvictoria.ca and the City’s YouTube channel.

Hosted by CHEK’s Joe Perkins and Stacy Ross, Victoria’s Canada Day will feature musical performances from an exciting local line-up, with a special performance by the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers.

What it means to live in Canada very much depends on your personal experience, whether you’re Indigenous, a newcomer, or have lived here for much or all of your life. We need to respect that for many, Canada Day is not an occasion for celebration. We need to acknowledge together our past wrongs and continue to work together with respect, cooperation and in partnership towards reconciliation.

Even though we can’t physically be together on the Legislature Lawn as we usually do, we can still come together virtually to mark Canada’s strengths and its diversity.

 

 

 

Racism Has No Place in Our City or Our Country

Images from the #peoplelessprotest organized at Centennial Square by Victoria Youth of Colour.

The events of the last several days south of the border have sparked difficult and important conversations, as once again the systemic racism in American society is revealed. Racism does not stop at the border. These are also conversations we need to have here in Victoria. Racism has no place in our city or our country.

I acknowledge that many Indigenous people and people of colour in our community are hurting right now. For those of us with privilege, we need to step up as allies and condemn racism in all its forms.

Two former City of Victoria Youth Poet Laureates have taken a leadership role in our community over the past few days, organizing peaceful protests and a vigil for George Floyd. I’d like to thank them for their courage.

Condemning racism and building understanding requires more than words, it requires action. That’s why the City is:

  • Developing an Equity Framework
  • Taking an Indigenous-led approach to reconciliation through the City Family
  • Convening the Reconciliation Dialogues to build understanding and work towards decolonization
  • Undertaking a Welcoming City Project to ensure that City Hall and the City of Victoria are safe and welcoming to people from around the world
  • Actively working with communities of colour on issues that they have identified as important to them

We are all still learning. There is more work to do. We can all do better. And we must do better. Each of us must stand up and call out racism of any sort, anywhere, and anytime, each and every time we witness it. We must have those hard conversations. We must truly listen when people share their experiences of racism in Victoria. Victoria is not immune. And we must continue to act as a City Council, and as residents and business owners to take action against racism in our community, in all its forms.

Council considers recovery actions for business and residents

City COVID-19 Update, May 12 2020

I apologize for not posting Friday’s Facebook live address here. If you missed it and you want to catch up, you can view it here on the City’s Facebook page.

Today is International Nurses Day. More than ever, I know we are all so keenly aware of the amazing work that nurses do in our community. I hope at 7pm today – for those who are still out there cheering – we gave an extra loud shout out to the nurses in our community. To all of the nurses working hard out there, thank you, on behalf of myself and council, for all that you do.

News from the federal government

Today, the Prime Minister announced additional supports for seniors. Old Age Security recipients will receive a one-time payment of $300. Guaranteed Income Supplement recipients will receive a one-time payment of $200, and some people will get both payments.

There were also be $20 million in additional funding for the New Horizons for Seniors Program to support organizations that offer community-based projects that reduce isolation, improve the quality of life of seniors, and help them maintain a social support network. We hope that some of this funding flow to our amazing senior’s centres here in the City of Victoria who do such great work keeping seniors connected.

News from the City

Youth Poet Laureate

The City of Victoria’s Youth Poet Laureate, Neko Smart, is looking for artists to participate in a new workshop series called Youth Verses. Youth Verses is a series of FREE virtual workshops for youth aged 14 to 19 who identify as visual and performance artists to take part in conversations about harnessing creativity while navigating mental illness.

Facilitated by Neko, these workshops will take place in a collaborative and safe space, where teenagers will feel supported and inspired to create art without judgement. At the end of the series, participants will get the chance to publicly display the art they’ve created in a virtual showcase.

For more information and to apply, you can head here. Applications are due by Monday, May 25 at 4 p.m. If you have any questions, please email culture@victoria.ca.


Council

This Thursday at Committee of the Whole we’ll be discussing what COVID-19 recovery could look like in the City of Victoria. Council members have brought their ideas, along with staff reports on creative ways the City can look at doing things differently in our new normal. You can read all the reports here on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.

Staff will be bringing us new options for holding public hearings and adapting the My Great Neighbourhood grants program – staff are proposing a new category for recovery and resilience. And staff will also be reporting back to council on what the City is already doing to support small business, arts and culture, and the visitor economy.

Myself and council are bringing forward proposals including a new economic action plan for the city, Victoria 3.0, support for allowing restaurants, cafes, and retailers to expand into public spaces, grants specific to the arts community and grants specific to COVID-19 recovery projects, and increasing physical distancing space for pedestrians in public spaces throughout the city.

They include extending parking fee reductions downtown through the summer and being more flexible with our commercial loading zones, expediting housing security actions in the City’s Housing Strategy, looking at food security options for renters, identifying priority capital projects so we are ready for federal and provincial stimulus funding, advocacy for increased sheltering options, supporting the travel and tourism industry,  and endorsement of a community recovery plan.

If you’re interested in watching Council’s debate You can tune in to our livestream at 9am on Thursday. I’m really excited to see some of these ideas come to life quickly to support residents and our small businesses during the recovery period.

News from the community

Exciting news today from The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria: The Art Gallery will re-open their doors to the public on May 19th. And, to offer the public an opportunity to spend time with  art and to celebrate the re-opening, the gallery will be offering free admission to all visitors until July 5, 2020. That’s amazing!

Visitors to the re-opened AGGV will now find the two largest galleries hung with works from their collection – one space focused on historical artworks, the other on contemporary. During their closure, the art gallery has offered a wide range of virtual programming to engage the public. Many of these virtual programs, including the nationwide on-line program FieldTrip.art will remain in place.

The gallery will be following policies and procedures for re-opening put into place by WorksafeBC, the Provincial Health Officer and the Province of British Columbia. Thanks to the Art Gallery for taking a lead in re-opening we know that our other arts and cultural institutions are also turning minds to this and will hopefully be open soon as some of these restrictions start to lift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you Victorians for all the work you’ve done to flatten the curve and care for each other

For those who want to stay up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me Mondays and Fridays on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 2:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. This video is my address from Monday. 

For those who have been tuning in since I began live addresses five weeks ago, you’ll know that I’ve opened by thanking different departments in the City for the creative ways they’ve been carrying on with the business of the City in challenging times. We’ve now made it through every department of the City.

So today, I want to say thank you to you, all of our City of Victoria residents. Together we’ve flattened the curve and – according to all signals coming from the provincial government – will soon be able to live a bit more freely and easily, albeit with lots of measures in place to keep us safe. Thanks for physical distancing. For staying at home. For washing your hands! Thanks for supporting our local businesses whether by ordering takeout, buying gift cards at SupportLocalYYJ for shopping online as our local businesses work hard to digitize.

Thanks for helping your neighbours, running errands for those who need that, and for checking in on each other. Thanks for your generous donations to the Rapid Relief Fund and Boxes of Hope too. These are both making big differences in the lives of people who are struggling right now. A heartfelt thank you to all of you, for all that you have done, are doing, and will continue to do as we walk forward together on this unknown journey.

News from the Province

On Friday, the provincial government announced new guidance for cities to hold public hearings electronically. As you may know, local governments are required to hold public hearings for some housing and other building projects so that Council can hear from the public before making a decision.

Many rental and affordable rental buildings are ready – or close to ready for a public hearing – and we are excited to keep things moving. This new order enables local governments to use creative ways to allow people to participate without having to come to City Hall in person.  With a rental and affordable housing crisis still on our hands, housing projects are critically important. Building them also keeps people working, putting money in people’s pockets that they can spend to support our small business community. This is a major step forward in keeping our economy moving and looking to recovery.

News from the City

Traffic Changes

City staff are continuing to create physical distancing zones across the City. These zones target pinch-points in sidewalks and provide a safe space for people when they are out getting fresh air or when picking up important items. Starting this week in Hillside-Quadra, the City will be temporarily restricting on-street parking on Fifth Street, between Hillside and Kings next to the Quadra Village Shopping Centre to create more room for pedestrians. Next week, temporary measures will be installed around the Fairfield Shopping Plaza along St. Charles Street.

The two new zones will be defined with bollards, signs and paint markings to make them easy to locate. Staff are delivering letters to all residents and businesses along the affected areas to make them aware of the temporary measures and to thank them for their cooperation. The City is also working with the neighbourhood associations to help notify residents.

Reconciliation Dialogues

The fifth session of our Reconciliation Dialogues series was due to be held tonight. Needless to say, the event has been postponed. We hope we can bring the series back at some point. It’s been very well attended and the sessions we have held have engaged and educated all of us in important ways. The first four dialogues are online here and you can watch them if you missed them, or if you’d like to see them again.

Recovery and Reinvention

We need to find our way forward in a post-COVID world. To get the ball rolling, I’ve asked Council to submit reports for our May 14th Committee of the Whole meeting that propose ideas for recovery. We know the Province has been talking about easing restrictions. We also know that this time has been difficult for many, and we’ve all had to adapt. I’d like Council and staff to think about changes we’ve made and lessons learned from the pandemic and what we need to do going forward to continue high quality of life and well-being for our residents and to ensure that our businesses can re-open successfully.

News from the community

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. We know that at this time with so many people out of work and struggling financially, giving is really difficult. This call to action is coming from the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. He says any act of generosity counts. Financial donations, acts of kindness, volunteering, posting colourful art and chalk drawings around your neighbourhood. There is no wrong way to give.

So tomorrow, use #givingtuesdaynow and share your acts of generosity to inspire others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID Safe Pedestrian Crossings Implemented at 25 Victoria Intersections

 

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

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

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

News from the City

Pedestrian crossings

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

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

Garden Waste Drop Off

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

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

Kathryn Calder Performs Live

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

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

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

News from the community

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

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

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

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

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

#NovaScotiaRemembers and We Remember With You

For those who want to stay up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me daily on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 2:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. This video is my address from Friday. We’ll be back Monday at 2:30pm.

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

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

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

News from the federal government

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

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

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

News from the City

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

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

You can read and listen to the poems right here.

News from the community

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

News from the federal government

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

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

News from the City – Focusing on Earth Day

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

Get Growing Victoria!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Trees In Cities

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

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

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

Feedback on vulnerable populations

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

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

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

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

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

 News from the community

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

Screenshot 2020-04-22 22.49.24

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VIDEA Hosts Global Storytelling Sessions Monday Evenings – All Welcome

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

We learned yesterday that we have had one additional death due to COVID-19 in the Island Health region. On behalf of myself and Council, I want to offer our deepest condolences to the friends and family of this person.

News from the federal government

Today, the federal government announced more help for small and medium-sized businesses. The Government of Canada will provide $962 million to the Federal regional economic development agencies and to the Community Futures Network of Canada to provide help to small business that don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) or the federal loan program.

The Government will also provide $270 million to Futurpreneur Canada and to the Industrial Research Assistance Program to support innovators who don’t qualify for these other funds. Both of these new programs are good news for Victoria businesses. We’ve heard from businesses that have fallen through the cracks. If you think your business might qualify for these new programs, please head to the City’s Business Hub website. It has has all the latest information on federal and provincial programs.

Today the federal government also announced funding for arts, culture and heritage.  The Government of Canada is providing $500 million to establish a new COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage and Sport Organizations to help address the complex financial needs of affected organizations within these sectors.

This fund is meant for organizations that can’t qualify for the existing Wage Subsidy because of the irregular nature of their revenues; it will also cover contract workers. The fund will also provide advances on future grants and contributions to help maintain liquidity as well as small subsidies to cover some fixed costs. We know that many people and organizations in Victoria will benefit from this. Minister Guillbeault’s office has already reached out to me to learn more about the need in Victoria.

As mayor I feel grateful that the federal government is working hard to ensure that the people and organizations that contribute to the cultural life of our city have some of their needs met and can stay afloat through this period and – with the support of the community – come back stronger than ever when this pandemic is behind us.

News from the provincial government

Yesterday I mentioned some great community resources for youth in our community. And yesterday the provincial government announced a new program to help post secondary students who are struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction or any other challenges at this difficult time.

Here2Talk is their new platform, available in English, Chinese and Punjabi. The platform offers free, confidential counselling for post secondary students by app, phone or online chat, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with trained counsellors. There is a Here2Talk app you can download, or you can visit their website here.

News from the community

I want to mention just a few of the ways people are connecting in new and different ways online. We’ve heard that the Lindyhop dancers of Victoria are using Zoom to continue to meet and dance with each other!

We’ve also heard that VIDEA is doing a community storytelling hour every Monday night at 7pm, with the link posted on VIDEA’s Facebook page. People are connecting from all around the world to share stories in a celebration of global community. You can also just listen. What a beautiful idea.

We’re going into another weekend, and I want to encourage everyone to keep on doing what you’re doing – stay home, wash your hands, practice physical distancing. As we saw from Dr. Bonnie Henry’s updated modeling this morning, it’s working! But we must keep it up. Only if we keep it up will we see some restrictions lifted.

Council Provides COVID Relief to Residents and Businesses

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

News from the provincial government

Today the province announced an expansion of virtual mental health supports. Working with partners, this will include online counselling supports, including for youth and immigrant and refugee populations. There will be a lot of resources available, check them out on the province’s COVID 19 website. This is a really important resource. We know there are people who are struggling right now. Please reach out if you need help.

News from the City

Today, at our Council meeting we made amendments to the 2020 Budget to deliver a financial relief package to help those in the community who may be experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • There will be no property tax increase this year for residential or commercial ratepayers
  • The deadline to pay property taxes has been extended to August 4 and a reduced penalty has been put in place for late payment
  • The deadline for utility bill payments has been extended to 90 days

Council has shown leadership in making these important decisions. We’re making these significant changes, while continuing to provide the services our residents depend on and leaving a little bit more money in people’s pockets. We understand the challenges out there. These decisions will help in some small way to reduce the financial hardship many of our residents and businesses are currently experiencing due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Council will also advocate to the provincial government to reinstate the property tax deferment program and extend the program to commercial properties, as well as amend the homeowner grant program to increase amounts and create a new category of grant for those who have suffered financial hardship.

Most of the City’s capital projects will still go ahead as planned as they preserve existing infrastructure, are safety related or are already in progress. To take advantage of lower traffic levels, the City will accelerate some of its major capital projects slated for the downtown core.

While the City is reducing work in some areas, it has more than $80 million in capital projects moving forward supporting the local economy. The $21.8 million in capital project spending that Council has deferred as of today will serve as a stimulus during economic recovery.

To make it easier for those who need to come downtown and park, rates in City parkades will be reduced to a maximum of $5 per day and on-street parking rates will be $1 per hour with no time limits except for 30-minute zones. These rates will be in effect for as long as the provincial state of emergency is in place.

Starting tomorrow and for future weekends, Beacon Hill Park will be closed to public vehicle traffic. This will free up space so local residents can stay active while also maintaining safe physical distances. City staff will be out in parks to engage with residents about playground and recreation facility closures and remind park users about physical distancing.

In addition, parking along Dallas Road will be realigned from angle parking to parallel parking in order to maintain physical distances. Parking along Douglas Street and on Nursery Road will remain open with an increased number of accessible stalls.

Beacon Hill Park and Dallas Road are magnets for visitors from all over the region, however, it’s important right now that we stay close to our homes and not travel to parks outside our local neighbourhoods. The Provincial Health Officer has encouraged us all to stay home as much as possible, and when we do go out for exercise and fresh air, staying close to home is the best option.

News from the community

Today I gave a big shoutout to VIATEC. VIATEC is the umbrella body for the tech community in Victoria. It owns Fort Tectoria, which houses office space for local companies and an event and gathering space.

VIATEC let us know that they have waived rent for all Fort Tectoria tenants for April. They’ve also offered membership deferrals, provided their job board at no charge to ViaTec members, and donated $10,000 to the Victoria Rapid Relief Fund. Thank you VIATEC for being such an important part of our city, for supporting your tenants and for helping out the wider community at this challenging time.

I also want to let you know that the Dandelion Society is hiring Shelter Support Staff immediately to support people who are experiencing homelessness. A background in Social Work, Mental Heath, Custodial, Security or Customer Service desperately needed. Experience working with this population is an asset. This posting can be found on The Chamber of Commerce job board, and you can also e-mail expressions of interest to mforbesbc@gmail.com

Have a wonderful long weekend everyone. I’m going to try to take a bit of downtime and begin to reflect on what recovery looks like and how we’ll all need to pull together on the other side of this pandemic to ensure a prosperous, inclusive, resilient and low-carbon future.