Right to Home – A National event on housing, homelessness, human rights and COVID-19

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Organizations from across Canada, including the City of Victoria, are partnering to create Right to Home, a week of virtual film screenings and live panel discussions from coast to coast to coast about what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next, as we re-imagine the right to home during and beyond the pandemic.

COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities in Canada’s housing and shelter systems. This is playing out on the ground in the City of Victoria and in cities across the country. As we rebuild our urban futures, we cannot risk going back to the way things were. If we take the right steps now, as a country, we can create transformative change.

Right to Home brings together the voices of those with boots on the ground, championing the right to housing across the country and around the world. From community organizers to institutional advocates, from politicians to people with lived experience of homelessness, every event provides a unique entry point to engage with one of the most pressing issues of this COVID time: the need ­– and the right ­– to a home.

The events take place from  July 27th to 31st. All Right to Home events are virtual and free of charge. You can find more information about the events and panelists as well as register here.

Right To Home Documentaries

Attendees can register to watch the two feature documentaries, Us & Them and Push and will receive virtual access to watch any time throughout the week.

Us and Them is a powerful documentary composed of striking portraits of four extraordinary homeless individuals as they struggle with addictions. The film is directed by Krista Loughton and Jennifer Abbott. The story follows Loughton’s ten-year journey exploring the worlds of Dawnellda, Stan, Eddie and Karen, who she attempts to help. In the end, it is Loughton herself who is changed. Punctuated with First Nations wisdom, and Dr. Gabor Maté’s insight into the root causes of addiction, the film shows there is no difference between us and them.

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Register to receive a streaming link for Us and Them. Watch the trailer.

Push is a documentary from award-winning director Fredrik Gertten, investigating why we can’t afford to live in our own cities anymore. Housing is a fundamental human right, a precondition to a safe and healthy life. But in cities all around the world, having a place to live is becoming more and more difficult. Who are the players and what are the factors that make housing one of today’s most pressing world issues?

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Register to receive a streaming link for Push. Watch the trailer.

Right to Home is hosted by the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) and The Shift in partnership with the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, Architecture & Design Film Festival, BC Non-Profit Housing Association, Big Wheel Community Foundation & Big Wheel Burger, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, Canadian Housing & Renewal Association, Canadian Human Rights Commission, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, City of Victoria, Co-Operative Housing Federation of Canada, Maytree, UDI Victoria.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Not Let the Issue of Homelessness Divide Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Participatory Budgeting and Everyday Creativity Grants Help Residents #buildbackbetter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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!