Province Secures Safe Shelter, Supports for People Living in Topaz and Pandora Encampments

Press availability, media Q and A. Saturday April 25th.

I’d like to thank the Province for their announcement today and for working in partnership with the City to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In particular, it was was terrific to hear the approach taken by Ministers Farnworth, Simpson and Darcy this morning.

Minster Farnworth said, “We cannot leave our most vulnerable behind.” Minister Simpson said directly to the people living in the encampments, “We will do this with care and compassion, you will not be abandoned.” And Minister Darcy talked about the stigma associated with addiction and emphasized that the government is taking this action to keep people safe with the two public health emergencies that currently exist.

To these ministers, to the entire cabinet committee and to the Premier who brought them together, on behalf of myself and Council and all the residents of Victoria – housed and unhoused – I want to say thank you for using your powers under the Emergency Program Act and your resources to address this critical situation. I also want to say thank you to all of the City of Victoria staff who have been working hard with this Province this past week and who will continue their work in the weeks to come.

Between Topaz Park and Pandora Ave there are 360 people living outside. Today the Province committed to ensuring that each of these people are housed indoors. Minister Simpson also said, “We have no intention of putting these people back on the street when this pandemic is over.” I am grateful to the Province for their commitment to providing long-term housing.

We know there is still more work to do, there are more people who will need housing and supports in the weeks and months to come, and we will continue to work with the Province to help ensure that everyone’s needs can be met. The reason the Province is starting with Topaz Park and Pandora Ave is because – as we are all aware – there have been significant challenges to mitigating the health risks in these dense encampments.

In response to today’s order from Minister Farnworth that these sites be evacuated by May 9th, BC Housing is leading a plan to coordinate a move for those living on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park into more secure temporary housing, primarily in motel rooms. This fits with what Council has asked the Province to do and what is recommended by Island Health.

This important action will provide secure housing, enable appropriate physical distancing measures and improve access to hygiene facilities, healthcare and social supports. BC Housing is building on the work that has already begun. They are now rapidly deploying outreach workers, and frontline staff to work with the people living at the camps and as well as with onsite social service providers to implement a plan for both of these sites.

I want thank all the frontline workers who are working at these temporary sites while we’ve been waiting for sheltering indoor options and who will continue to work hard as people move indoors. It will take weeks to move everyone off of Pandora Avenue and out of Topaz Park, but the work is already underway. It’s going to take everyone working together to get our most vulnerable residents into indoor living situations with the help and support they need.

BC Housing has successfully moved people and closed encampments many times over in recent years and they will be applying that experience to ensure that the decampment of these two locations is done in a way that meets the needs of residents currently living there.

Working together with the Province we can create a community where everyone feels safe, where everyone’s needs are met, and where everybody can live well and can live well together.

 

Convert Your Oil Heating to Heat Pump – Big Subsidy Now Available

Daily address Thursday April 23rd. We’ll be back Friday at 2:30pm.

It’s been another long day and it’s too late to still be working. Instead of transcribing my speaking notes here as I’ve been doing each evening, I’m taking an easier path and sharing the text of the City’s daily media release. Apologies to those who like the regular format! There are some great links at the end of the video in the News from the Community section. Please skip ahead in the video if you’re interested.

For those of the Muslim faith, Ramadan will look different this year due to the pandemic. I know I will very much miss the annual Ramadan iftar, fast-breaking dinner we host here at City Hall with the Muslim community. To all those celebrating, Ramadan Mubarak!

Today the Prime Minister announced a $1.1 billion medical research strategy to fight COVID-19. It will include money for vaccine and treatment research, clinical trials and an expansion of national testing and modelling.

The provincial government announced today its Emergency Benefit for Workers (BCEBW), a one-time, tax-free $1,000 payment to help British Columbians whose ability to work has been affected by COVID-19. Starting May 1, those eligible to receive the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit can apply for the BCEBW. For more information, visit gov.bc.ca/workerbenefit.

On behalf of City Council, I want to thank the federal government for this significant investment in the health of all Canadians. Also, it’s so good to see the collaboration between the Province and the federal government in providing the new Emergency Benefit for Workers as a means to top up the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Today, Council allocated up to $52,500 to the Victoria Police to increase public safety in the area around Topaz Park, and up to $100,000 for City staff to continue to support vulnerable populations.

Since declaring a climate emergency in March 2019, the City has made progress in its work to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Victoria. The new Oil to Heat Pump Rebate that is part of the Climate Friendly Homes Program, became available as of April 1. Homeowners can receive up to $6,850 in rebates to switch from fossil fuel heating (oil and natural gas) to an air-source heat pump. This financial incentive is a combination of rebates offered by the City of Victoria, the Capital Regional District and the provincial CleanBC Better Homes program. For more information, visit: betterhomesbc.ca.

Now is as good a time as any to tackle climate change. The new Oil to Heat Pump Rebate is a significant investment that benefits homeowners, is good for the environment, and will provide an energy-efficient heating and cooling system for your home year-round.

To meet its climate targets, the City is also expanding the placement of electric vehicle chargers in Victoria and introducing charging fees and requirements for EV-readiness in all new residential and commercial buildings. A comprehensive EV Infrastructure Strategy will be developed later this year to guide the City’s investment in public and private EV charging stations.

For information on the City’s response to COVID-19 visit victoria.ca/covid19response.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Makes More Room for Pedestrians on Neighbourhood Streets

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 Monday. We’ll be back Tuesday at 2:30pm. 

There was no update from the Federal government today in light of the horrific tragedy in Nova Scotia. It’s hard to fathom that our current crisis could still come with additional challenges let alone one as monstrous as this. From our coast to theirs, and on behalf of all Victorians, I send me deepest condolences to everyone impacted by the mass shooting over the weekend. We have the Canadian flag at City Hall at half mast to mark this tragedy and the lives lost.

I also want to acknowledge  that today is Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Today we remember the six million Jewish lives lost – along with millions of others targeted by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, sexual identity or disability – during the Holocaust. This is a solemn reminder of the horrors that can occur when we focus on what divides us, instead of what unites us as a human family.

News from the provincial government

Yesterday the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General has given police and other enforcement officers the ability to issue $2,000 violation tickets for price gouging and the reselling of medical supplies and other essential goods during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Province enacted these new measures under the provincial state of emergency, using the extraordinary powers of the Emergency Program Act. The Minister reminded all of us that, “these orders are not suggestions, they are the law.”

In other news from the Province today, they’ve developed a new collaborative framework will help ensure people living in rural, remote and Indigenous communities in B.C. have access to critical health care they can count on to meet their unique needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The framework was developed through a partnership between the First Nations Health Authority, Northern Health and Provincial Health Services Authority.

It provides flexibility so local leaders in rural, remote and Indigenous communities can adapt it to meet their unique needs. This is important in an era of reconciliation and to the Indigenous communities here on southern Vancouver island.

News from the City

The City is creating more usable space for pedestrians along local streets to ensure people can practice physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting this Thursday in James Bay, we’ll will be temporarily restricting on-street parking on Simcoe Street, between Government and Oswego, and for half a block of Menzies Street approaching the Five Corners retail complex. We’re not closing streets in James Bay, we’re just making more room for pedestrians.

This will give people more space to practice physical distancing when out walking and shopping. Following the first location this week in James Bay, more space for pedestrians will be introduced in Quadra Village, Cook Street Village, Fairfield and Vic West in the coming weeks. Like everyone, this is a new experience for us. Our transportation staff who are  implementing these changes are learning as they go and will adjust accordingly

News from the community

This week is Volunteer Week. I can’t think of a time when volunteers have been more important. To those delivering meals to elderly and frontline worker, to those providing services to our most vulnerable populations, we are tremendously grateful to everhone who is giving of their free time to help others. If you want to volunteer, or need volunteers, you can head to Volunteer Victoria.

Every day during my Facebook live update, we ask people to send in their thoughts and ideas. Today, I want to thank the numerous people that have sent in their concerns and ideas for people in Victoria who are experiencing homelessness during this public health crisis. It’s a very complex situation that deserves the utmost thought and care. We’ve shared all the helpful comments with the Province to consider and we look forward to those ideas turning into innovative action to help the most vulnerable among us.

As I’ve said before, if the virus spreads among this population, they will end up using the very same health services we all depend on. It’s vital we do whatever we can to protect everyone. We’re in this together.

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Government Funds 100 Per Cent of Wages for Canada Summer Jobs for Students

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

Update from the federal government

A reminder that if your birthday is in July, August, or September, today is your day to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The application process has been staggered to make it easier for people to apply. Earlier in the week I detailed who is eligible, but you can also learn more and apply here.

This morning the Prime Minister announced some good news for students and employers too – a boost to the Canada Summer Jobs program. This program funds student employment in the summer months. In response to COVID-19, the federal government will offer up to 100 per cent wage subsidy for employers, opening up the program to part time jobs, and will extend the end date for employment of February 28th, 2021.

We will await further details on this program expansion. If you are business planning to take advantage of the program, we’d love to hear from you. It’s so important that we share stories of how these additional funds and benefits are working in our community to give us all hope to get through this challenging time.

Update from the provincial government

All BC Parks are now closed until further notice, effective immediately. This temporary measure means public and vehicle access is prohibited. All trails, roads, day-use areas, beaches, lakes, boat launches, and backcountry areas are closed to the public. All camping is now banned until May 31st.

CRD and City parks are staying open at this time. As Dr. Bonnie Henry says, the risk of transmission outdoors is much less than the risk of transmission indoors. However, I urge you to follow all of the guidelines and orders currently in place to bend the curve.

If you are going for a walk in a park, don’t congregate. Don’t gather in groups. Keep your social distance and please be courteous of others. It’s going to be a beautiful holiday weekend and I understand the desire to get outdoors. We can get those walks in if we all do our part to look after each other and keep our physical distance.

For those around the region, please stay in your home municipalities this weekend. Leave Dallas Road and Beacon Hill Park for Victoria residents. Today at the CRD Board meeting, Chair Plant asked all residents to remain in their home municipalities and to use the parks and trail systems there.

BC Housing and Island Health update

In collaboration with the City of Victoria, BC Housing and Island Health will implement a model of temporary sheltering in Victoria and the CRD to meet the current COVID-19 health crisis. This model will prioritize temporary indoor sheltering across a variety of sites, consistent with the Province’s direction to provide safe spaces to self-isolate and enable physical distancing.

These sites will also provide services such as washrooms/hygiene, and social and health care supports as required, including harm reduction. With the focus on indoor spaces, Island Health has advised that Royal Athletic Park is no longer required as part of the coordinated action plan to support the vulnerable population in the CRD.

In partnership with BC Housing, the City of Victoria and Island Health, sites have been identified and will continue to be identified to support this population. We are doing everything in our power to try to prevent an outbreak in this community. That’s critically important not just for those who are living on the street, but for our entire community if we are going to flatten the curve and slow the pace of infection.

Health-specific messages from Island Health

The inside locations will support the Provincial Health Officer’s direction to better support social distancing and provide basic services such as food, washrooms/hygiene health and harm reduction for individuals experiencing homelessness. Island Health and BC Housing will work together to determine individuals’ needs and prioritize indoor shelter and housing accordingly.

Island Health will provide health care services and supports at these locations, including primary care, mental health and substance use and harm reduction programs. Island Health has identified sites where people experiencing homelessness who are COVID-19 positive will be able to self-isolate.

News from the City

flag at city hall heart

As promised, we raised the “we love front line workers Canadian flag” at City Hall this morning! They are available at the Victoria Flag Shop on Fort Street. Paul Servos the owner of the Flag Shop was inspired by the Victoria Rapid Relief Fund so they made a Canada Heart Flag and donated it to support the Fund and to thank essential workers.

The Flag Shop is now  making and selling the Canada Heart flags at lowest possible price so they can get wide distribution, and they are donating $5.00 to the local Victoria Rapid Relief Fund for every flag sold. By buying a flag you are also helping a small local business to stay afloat in these unusual times.

Many people have been asking  about parking. Last week Council asked staff to look at adjustments to parking fees due to COVID-19. Thursday, we will debate the options that staff have come up with. This is a balancing act – parking revenue makes a significant contribution to the City’s budget. And this revenue is down as people are working from home and not coming downtown.

However, we recognize that those working in essential services right now are still using parking and also facing additional pressures.  We’ll be considering daily and monthly parkade rates, on-street metered rates, parking lot rates, and enforcement of time-limited zones. To read the report and the staff recommendations, check out the agenda for tomorrow’s Committee of the Whole meeting at victoria.ca and tune into our live webcast at 9am tomorrow morning.

News from the community

Starfish Medical, based right here in Victoria, is helping to lead the production of made in Canada ventilators. Starfish is designing an open-source ventilator design for companies to produce, and will help connect manufacturers and suppliers to speed up production. The Times Colonist wrote a great story about this here.

And Camosun College – Camosun’s Innovation Centre will be manufacturing 9,000 face shields for frontline health care workers with Island Health in the coming weeks. This will fill an urgent need.

I’m so proud of the creativity and innovation that happens here in Victoria – we are helping each other and helping the national effort at the same time.

 

Now Is Not the Time To Party – Police Called to Nine Gatherings Over Weekend – Stay at Home!

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 keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also put the videos up here from now on. This video is my address from Monday. We’ll be back Tuesday at 2:30pm.

Chief Constable Del Manak is urging members of our Victoria and Esquimalt communities to continue to follow social and physical distancing orders from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry after officers were called to multiple gatherings over the weekend.

Officers were called to nine noise complaints, including several parties and other gatherings, as well as to a group at Saxe Point Park over the weekend. Officers spoke with some attendees about the risks that violating Dr. Henry’s orders present to those gathering, to their loved ones and to the wider community. These gatherings also present additional, unnecessary risk of COVID-19 exposure to front-line officers responding to these calls.

“We need to do better,” Chief Del Manak said. “The first line of defense against COVID-19 is social and physical distancing. Please, think of the greater good. Think of our officers who are attending these calls. Think of the grocery clerks, the cleaners, the nurses, the doctors, the care workers and all the other front-line and essential service workers who cannot stay home, but who are putting themselves at risk for others. Please, stay home.”

News from the federal and provincial governments

This morning the Prime Minister announced more information regarding the wage subsidy for business and non-profits. Some important details: All businesses are eligible if business revenue has decreased by at least 30% due to COVID19; no business is too small to be eligible; the federal government will provide 75% of salary on the first $58,700 an employee earns; the program is retroactive to March 15.

On Friday, the provincial government announced new funding for arts and culture. They have developed a $3-million Arts and Culture Resilience Supplement which will be administered by the BC Arts Council. Those eligible will receive a supplement of up to $15,000 in early April to help them pay their bills.

And starting in April 2020, the BC Arts Council will provide eligible organizations a 50% advance on 2020-21 funding to help with cash flow. They are also extending application deadlines, relaxing reporting requirements and allowing organizations to use funding to cover immediate needs like rent and utilities.

This is so important to Victoria because our arts and culture events are a key part of what makes Victoria so amazing, vibrant and alive. AND they’re a key economic driver.

Small business, non-profits, and arts and culture are all areas that Council has been advocating for relief for, and I’d like to thank the federal and provincial governments for providing assistance to these important sectors in this challenging time.

News from the City

I’d like to address some of the questions that came in on Friday’s Facebook live about Topaz Park so first I’ll refresh you on what Island Health, BC Housing, the City, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and the Dandelion Society are working on together.

The Phase One shelter and service provision sites that are being put into place at Topaz and Royal Athletic Parks are temporary stopgap measures. These are needed to ensure social distancing is possible. The current situation on Pandora St. does not facilitate people following Dr Bonnie Henry’s orders.

The temporary park sites were chosen due to proximity to washrooms, appropriate space for social distancing, and because some, in the case of Topaz Park, people were already sheltering there. Phase Two, which will be underway as soon as possible, will move people to indoor shelters. And it’s already started. Over the weekend, 27 of the first 35 motel rooms were filled with people who were sleeping outdoors. Forty more motel rooms have been identified and social service providers will be out in the community identifying people who would be suitable to move in

It’s important to note that the Province is securing motel rooms across the island and around the Province. And I know that all mayors on the island are working hard with BC Housing and Island Health to provide the supports that people need in their own communities.

News from the community

I’ve been encouraging everyone to participate in the 7pm cheering for health care workers. And it’s working – last night the whole string of backyards along our street were out there banging pots and pans, and waving to each other as well. It feels like a good way to stay connected!

And today I learned of another way we can thank our local health care workers, and that’s the Hospital Heroes of Victoria campaign from the Victoria Hospitals Foundation. You can send a personal message to our frontline workers, our hospital heroes right here. This is a simple, heartfelt way you can boost the spirits of healthcare workers.

Feedback from the community

A resident got in touch after Friday’s address asking me to please remind everyone to help those who are vision impaired in our community; they can’t see appropriate social distances, so please be observant and move away. She wrote:

 “I’m just talking with a friend who is vision impaired with an assist dog. They are conscientious. They are adhering to the CoVid 19 safety guidelines. Today while walking the Dallas Road walkway, they did their best to HEAR where people were and to keep away from them. Yet, some people did not keep their distance from them and seemed unconcerned and indifferent. When they reminded them of the two metre distance, they didn’t care. In some cases, people were hostile when reminded.

“We think it is important for everyone to obey the physical distance rule. And, if everyone did so, then my friend could go for a CoVid safe walk which is important for their mental and physical health.”

We’re all learning lots about each other’s needs and points of view in this health emergency. Let’s keep each other’s needs in mind.

Please, let’s look after each other. And please continue to write to me in the comments or to mayor@victoria.ca to tell me what you’re seeing in our community. I’d love to share more of your stories about what you are doing to keep social connection while physically distancing.

Today Dr. Bonnie Henry told us that the next two weeks are our watershed moment. The things we are already doing are making a difference. But we are not through the storm yet, we have not reached our peak in cases.

She thanked people for taking the measures she recommends seriously – and I want to do the same – the health of our city and our community depends on it. Keep up those social distancing measure. Don’t gather in small groups inside. Keep your distances. Don’t play basketball, you could take something home and infect your parents or grandparents. Stay at home. And stay connected with your community and with the people you love! The next two weeks are make or break. Together, we’ve got this!

 

Boxes of Hope – Keep Restaurant Staff Employed and Feed Someone Who’s Hungry

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 keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also put the videos up here from now on. This video is my address from Friday. We’ll be back Monday at 2:30pm.

This morning, for the first time in a long time, 21 people woke up inside, in hotel rooms rented through Emergency Management BC. And when they did, there was a warm meal waiting for them from the Boxes of Hope Program.

I love this program and the innovative partnerships through which it was created. In the face of unprecedented challenges to their own businesses, several local Victoria restaurants, the Jawl Family Foundation, the Coalition to End Homelessness and the Downtown Victoria Business Association are pulling together to help others in need and to keep local restaurant kitchens open. And we need your help.

For every $10 you donate here you will be providing a warm healthy meal to someone in need, AND supporting our local restaurant community and helping to keep restaurant staff employed. We know there are many people in our community hit hard right now and who don’t have any funds to spare. We also know there are others who do. For those who can, please help us nourish Victorians one meal at a time.

Federal government news

On Friday the Prime Minister announced a new $40,000 loan for small business, interest free for one year, and up to $10,000 will be forgivable in some cases. In order to qualify, a business’s payroll must be between $50,000 and $1 million in 2019. This will help all businesses in Victoria, even really small ones – we’re so grateful to see this wide net cast. A lot of our businesses in Victoria are very small business. This loan also applies to non-profits of the same size.

Trudeau also announced a subsidy to cover 75% of wages for qualifying small and media businesses – this is up from the previously announced 10%. It’s great to see that the federal government is responsive to changing needs and to the advocacy of our very own Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Victoria Business Association and Destination Greater Victoria.

GST and HST payments as well as duties for small and medium sized businesses have been deferred to June. The federal government will announce more details of new small business plan on Monday.

Provincial government news

On Thursday the provincial government announced expanded BC 211 services. If you are a senior, you can call 211 to be matched with a service or with a volunteer who can help you get groceries, medications, and stay connected. If there is a senior in your life that could benefit from this service, please pass on this new 211 information line. If you want to volunteer to help with these efforts you can call 211 or visit the BC 211 website.

On Friday Dr. Bonnie Henry told us if we keep following her orders, keep up the social distancing measures, stay at home, wash our hands, we’ll flatten the curve. She is cautiously optimistic. Victorians, let’s make her proud! Keep going! What we’re doing is working. I know it’s hard, but we’re flattening curve.

News from the City

Effective immediately, all Development and Building Permit Applications for the City of Victoria can now be accepted online. I am so impressed by our planning staff department for making this transition so quickly. This includes rezonings, development permit, heritage alteration permit, temporary use permit, and variance applications as well as building, plumbing, electrical and sign permit applications. More information here. This online processing of application will not only help building in the city continue, it will also help tradespeople to keep their jobs.

Feedback from you!

I received an e-mail from a community member who has been watching my daily updates. She wrote in response to the 7pm challenge to get out there and cheer for our front-line workers every night. She says:

“Thank you for the challenge at 7 PM every night to make a ruckus in tribute of our Frontline workers. I live on Foul Bay Road. Tonight is the second night I went out and both nights I have heard at least one other home joining me in making noise. (All The passerby’s think I am a nut case). I have faith in all of us – our greater community in the days to come.

If I was not on long term disability, I would be also one of those front-line workers so I am going outside of my door every night at seven in tribute to my colleagues. I would give anything to be able to be working right now.”

Thanks for writing in and sharing your story!

Please do get outside at 7pm and keep cheering on all our front line workers. Please share your stories with us on the Facebook video where our daily video is posted. And please look after each other, and stay connected over the weekend.

 

City Secures 35 Motel Rooms for Homeless in Pandemic – Small Start, Long Way to Go

So sorry to everyone who was tuned in at 3:30 today; Facebook broke and we couldn’t get the livestream connected. Bonus is the video is now on Facebook AND Youtube so I’ve linked it here for easy viewing. Tomorrow and beyond we’ll be doing the daily Facebook Live at 2:30pm here on the City’s Facebook page. We’ve moved the daily address to 2:30 to make it easier for TV media to tune in and then get their stories ready for the 5:00pm news. We rely on the media to help get the information and the stories out, and we thank them for doing so!

News from the province

Under the Emergency Program Act, Minister Farnworth today issued a series of ministerial orders to ensure a co-ordinated response to COVID-19 across all levels of government for the duration of the provincial emergency. These include:

    • Establishing a new Provincial Supply Chain Coordination Unit to co-ordinate goods and services distribution.
    • Banning the secondary resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning and other essential supplies; and restricting quantities of items purchased at point of sale.
    • Enabling municipal bylaw officers to support enforcement of the provincial health officer’s orders for business closures and gatherings
    • Ensuring all passenger and car-ferry services provide minimum service levels and priority access for residents, and essential goods and workers.
    • Making it easier to support critical services for vulnerable people, like food banks and shelters – the province can requisition any public facilities for these needs.
    • Suspending local states of emergency specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, giving municipal councils the ability to hold more flexible meetings to expedite decisions; and co-ordinating potential use of local publicly owned facilities, like community centres, for self-isolation, testing, medical care, warehousing and distribution.
    • Issuing a new order with respect to people who use substances and the provision of a safe supply to protect their health. Minister Dix called this a necessary public health practice given the two public health emergencies we are facing, the opioid crisis and the COVID pandemic.

What this means for the City is that our debate on declaring a local state of emergency was suspended, and we continue to work with the province on other aspects of emergency response.

News from the City

Today Council passed a motion to strongly advocate to the Province on behalf of small businesses and non-profits which have been affected by the pandemic in Victoria. We’re asking for rent relief and halting evictions during the state of emergency. April 1st is coming as quickly for small businesses with leases as it is for residential tenants. Council appreciates the actions the Province took to provide rent relief to tenants, which also puts money into the hands of landlords. We hope to see swift action from the Province to support small businesses in BC. In Victoria, these businesses are the lifeblood of our community.

Continuing to advance work on sheltering, the City has secured 35 motel rooms for people who are currently homeless. The rooms will be funded through Emergency Management BC (EMBC). Thanks to our hard working Emergency Operations Centre staff who secured these rooms. We’re working with the Coalition to End Homelessness and the Coordinated Assessment and Access process to get people inside as soon as possible. This is just the tip of the iceberg and there is much more to do. BC Housing is working hard to secure further rooms and indoor sheltering locations.

The people going to the motel rooms booked by the City through EMBC are healthy and not exhibiting symptoms they are just experiencing homelessness right now. This is part of the overall coordinated response to provincial direction for social distancing for everyone.

Yesterday we talked about some of the interim shelter options in parks that Island Health, BC Housing, the City, and service providers are working on. We’re guided in this effort by  Island Health Chief Medical Officer Dr Richard Stanwick, who has been closely involved in this process.

“In these extraordinary times extraordinary measures will be required to slow the transmission of Covid-19, said Dr. Stanwick. “These efforts will help enable our health care system to prepare for and to respond to the surge of cases expected with this pandemic. Some measures will be for the duration of the pandemic while others will be for staging prior to another measure. The use of our parks to improve physical distancing is one of these measures. Island Health is working with the Mayor, BC Housing and other community partners to identify additional approaches and methods to improve social distancing.”

This is a fast developing situation, and urgent response is needed. Things are changing daily, and we are working from the direct advice of health care professionals. In order to maximize efficiency and to get sites open as soon as possible we are now focusing on establishing two temporary outdoor sites – Topaz Park and Royal Athletic Park, not Beacon Hill Park at this time.

Indoor shelter options are coming soon. I’ve been asked over the last couple of days about self-isolation beds for people without homes. I’m pleased to say that Island Health has identified beds for members of the street community who may present as symptomatic.

Community feedback

After my daily Facebook live yesterday, we received an e-mail from a wheelchair user regarding the additional health risk at this time for wheelchair users caused by people spitting on the ground. Please don’t spit on the ground! It’s more important than ever to keep hands and wheels clean. Also, please do be aware that everyone is trying to practice social distancing. Wheelchair users cannot step off a sidewalk to provide distance. Please do be aware of others around you. Let’s try to keep everyone in our community well and safe.

 

Province Unveils COVID-19 Action Plan, City and Partners Take Steps Together to Address Health Needs of Unsheltered

Horgan-James
BC Government Photo

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 3:30pm. 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 keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. Here’s some of what I shared today. And more detailed information below from the Provincial Government’s important press conference.

We’re really encouraged to see the additional supports coming out from the Province this afternoon. Especially those supports for small businesses and people that work for them. And we’re  really happy to hear that more supports will be coming for renters, to be announced by the province on Wednesday. Premier John Horgan said today that no individual will be evicted due to COVID – 19. This is something that Council is very concerned about and I’m happy to see the Province take leadership. We hope the Province will do everything in their power to support renters – which comprise well over half of Victoria’s population.

We’re also happy to see the Province providing $500 million in tax deferrals. And creating a $1.5 billion recovery fund. At the beginning of an economic crisis is a good time to begin to prepare for recovery. I appreciate the Province’s foresight in this regard.

As for what the City is doing,  the City’s emergency planning protocol has kicked in, and our Emergency Operations Centre is up and running. This allows us to work closely with Emergency Operations BC, and respond to emerging needs. It also means the City can be reimbursed by the Province for expenses incurred to respond to the emergency.

We have closed all parks facilities, playgrounds in addition to skate and bike parks, basketball & tennis courts, sports fields, outdoor gyms.

The City has convened Island Health, BC Housing, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Dandelion Society and other local service agencies to identify and implement measures to help protect people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. These organizations will have additional supports for vulnerable populations including more places for people to shelter and self-isolate.

These measures include allowing temporary shelters at Beacon Hill Park and Topaz Park, where residents can access up to date health information, meals, washrooms and handwashing stations. BC Housing is working with Island Health to use the Royal Athletic Park as an outdoor shelter for the city’s most vulnerable residents. This location allows for social distancing measures. The Province has the power, under the provincial state of emergency, to use city facilities for emergency measures. In the coming days and weeks we may see more of this, as we work together to look after our residents.

Here is a powerful statement from Jim Swanson, General Manager of the Victoria Harbourcats who are the City’s main tenant at Royal Athletic Park. His response choked me up when I read it today. This is an example of true leadership:

“The Covid-19 pandemic is the most glaring example in history that we all, globally, need to stand together, and act together.

The Victoria HarbourCats fully support the measures so far being put in place by the Province of B.C., led by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. The HarbourCats also support the new development that areas inside Royal Athletic Park will be used by the City of Victoria to create appropriate social distancing for the city’s homeless population, with the 900 block of Pandora becoming a problem area for us all to maintain space and give the best chance of everyone coming out of this healthy.

This is bigger than any of us individually, as people or as companies or government departments. Working with Mayor Helps, and with key City staff, this is the right thing for all to do. We all must do our part to flatten the curve, so this can have the least impact on life and health, and allow us to recover sooner.

Baseball takes a back seat right now, that’s for sure — and let’s focus on the HarbourCats only after we focus on each other. Our season doesn’t arrive until June, we have the luxury of time, let’s deal with now and worry about later, later.

When it’s time to play baseball, we’ll play baseball. When we’re able to gather again, and cross borders, we’ll play. Until then, the people in our organization will be dedicated to being part of the solution.”

In addition to the three temporary outdoor sheltering sites, 938 Mason Street, the old Girl Guides building, which BC Housing recently purchased, will be temporarily used as a triaging and testing site for members of the homeless community. Island Health is still working out all the details.

Moving forward – because we can’t have people living in tents for four to six months in a health emergency –  the City and our partners are exploring indoor options for residents to be assigned a bed in addition to essential services this could include BC Housing providing hotel rooms, and/or using other public facilities to turn into temporary indoor sheltering areas.

We will update you on plans at details as they become available on the City’s Facebook page at 3:30pm every day. Please tune in!

Further Details on Provincial Press Conference

Premier Horgan

  • Action Plan is focused on: Protecting British Columbians, direct immediate economic relief, and planning/funding for long-term recovery.
  • $5 billion dollar plan for British Columbians and businesses. This is a starting point and there will be more support if needed.


Minister James

  • $1.7 billion in investments for critical services – to be allocated in weeks and months ahead as needed (including healthcare, shelters, rental support programs, extra disability assistance, and support for individuals/families and businesses).
    • $1.1. billion specifically for workers and families: Emergency Benefit for workers will provide a 1 time payment of $1000 dollar to anyone who cannot work because of COVID-19. This is a first step – other measures may be needed later. Even those not eligible for EI can claim the payment.
  • An enhanced BC climate action tax payment will occur in July. Need to file taxes to determine eligibility, in order to receive payment.
  • Looking at details for how to support renters – including increased support for seniors and the working poor. Requesting that landlords halt evictions.
    • $50 million in added funding for United Way.
  • As of March 30, all student loan payments will be paused until September 30.
  • BC Hydro will work with customers to defer bill payments or arrange for flexible payments without penalty. ICBC will offer more drivers license renewals online or on the phone and defer payments for 90 days with no penalty.
  • Deferring most Provincial tax filing deadlines (municipal and regional taxes, Provincial tax, carbon tax, and several others) until September 30
  • Delaying increase to carbon tax indefinitely, will review by September 30.
  • Establishing a recovery task force that will include members from business and labour. Have set aside $1.5 billion dollars for longer-term recovery – will be deployed when signs of recovery are apparent.

 

Q&A – Select Questions

  • What supports are there for renters and mortgage-payers? Is there a ban on all evictions in B.C.?
    • Premier Horgan: Nobody will lose their apartment because of COVID-19 (evictions for other reasons could occur). Further details on support for renters will be publicized on Wednesday. Joint Federal-Provincial support for mortgages are in place. We are working on common language for program delivery.
  • Is this package in addition to the Provincial budget and where is the deficit projection at?
    • Minister James: Yes, this spending is in addition to the budget – will be enacted by the legislation being passed today. Deficit will be impacted by COVID-19 spending undoubtedly. Right now we are focused on dealing with immediate impacts, but we will have a broader fiscal update in late summer/early fall.
  • How fast can you get the application process set up for COVID-19 funding and when will the money flow to citizens?
    • Minister James: We will get everything set up by May. The application process will be streamlined and as simple as possible.
  • Should small businesses stay open with bare bones staff or close completely and lay-off people so that they can collect EI?
    • Premier Horgan: It is a tough call. We’ve put in place as many incentives and supports as possible for small businesses, but each business needs to make their own call. I realize that is an imperfect message, and I sympathize with the predicament of these business owners. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide more support as needed.
  • Quebec and Ontario are going to a full shutdown of all non-essential services tomorrow. Are you considering that?
    • Premier Horgan: I’m considering it on some level, of course. But it’s easy to say “lockdown” or “shutdown”, but the lists of exceptions you end up seeing in those situations (i.e. in California) look similar to the limitations that we already have in place in B.C. I don’t want to create confusion by changing our terminology. We are taking a science-based approach to all this and also being mindful of the economy as well.
  • Do you see a need for municipalities or the Federal government to declare states of emergency to increase enforcement of social distancing?
    • Premier Horgan: They can do so if they want, but we have all the powers we need at the Provincial level to enforce social distancing. People need to do the right thing here.
  • How are you considering the impact of COVID-19 on other crises, like opioids abuse and homelessness?
    • Premier Horgan: I would also expand that to peoples mental health. We are putting more resources online.
  • Recession is virtually a given at this point? What are your projections saying?
    • Minister James: Right now we are focused on dealing with immediate impacts, but we will have a broader fiscal update in late summer/early fall – it’s too difficult to project at this point. That is also why we are setting aside funding for long-term recovery.

 

Plan for People Living Without Homes – COVID-19 Pandemic, Victoria B.C.

homeless-on-the-streets

Our Place closed last Tuesday. They are still providing meals, paramedic services,  handing out blankets, tents and hygiene supplies and providing access to washrooms. But the need on the block is growing. This comes as other shelters have also had to lower their capacity due to social distancing requirements. This has left already vulnerable people even more vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BC Housing, Island Health, the Coalition to End Homelessness and the City of Victoria have been working around the clock to develop an emergency response for the people who are most vulnerable, living outside, and unable to follow any of Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Henry’s orders – social distancing, wash your hands, stay at home.

To start, since Friday evening the Coalition to End Homelessness has been providing evening meal and health information in Centennial Square. Sunday, City Bylaw staff and Reverend Al from the Dandelion Society will be working to identify people’s immediate needs on the 900 block of Pandora.

The Dandelion Society, the Coalition to End Homelessness and City bylaw staff have been working over the weekend to implement Phase One of the plan as soon as possible. In Phase One (starting Sunday March 22) people will select a location to go to in a number of parks around the city where there will be food, water, and washrooms. They will be able to stay in tents in the short term. The exact details and locations are still being determined.

The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness is playing a coordinating and communication role to ensure community members are aware of their emerging options for shelter, services, and health inquiries.

In Phase Two (which will take a little bit longer to roll out – we’re working as fast as we can) people will be assessed at these interim sites with particular attention to anyone exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. Based on need, preference, symptoms or no symptoms, and other criteria, people will move to appropriate indoor sheltering locations which will also be dispersed throughout the city.

BC Housing and Island health are working in partnership to ensure that there are spaces for self-isolation for those exhibiting symptoms. Island Health will play a role in assessing people’s health and symptoms at the assessment sites and will also identify health care staff to ensure health care professionals are available to support shelter sites.

The City of Victoria has asked that the Province use its powers under the Emergency Management Act to order that City facilities be used for the provision of services by BC Housing and Island Health. The Province has granted BC Housing the powers it requires to use City facilities for sheltering. Locations are in the process of being determined.

The Capital Regional District is leveraging existing and new emergency funding announced by the Government of Canada through the Reaching Home Program to support this important effort.