Last Thursday, at a public hearing for a proposed new condo building on Rockland Ave near Cook Street, a neighbour spoke to Council in favour of the new housing. He listed all the types of housing in the area: he lives in a townhouse; this new condo building is proposed on the lot next door; Council recently approved a five story rental building nearby on Cook Street; and just this past week the Province announced a new supportive housing building nearby on Meares Street. The neighbour said he supports all of these housing types in his neighbourhood because a diversity of housing is key to good “community making.”
Council voted in favour of the proposal. And, earlier in the evening, Council also supported 34 new townhouses in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood on Washington Street. The townhouses are two, three and four bedroom and are designed to provide homes for families. The past week also saw the Province announce close to 300 new supportive housing units in the region, including 192 in the City of Victoria.
It was a good week for housing in the city – from much-needed missing middle housing like townhouses, to small condos that enable young people to enter the housing market, to housing for people exiting homelessness. But is it enough? And what about the process?
New provincial legislation adopted in 2018 requires that each local government undertake a “Housing Needs Survey” every five years to identify gaps in the housing ecosystem. Victoria’s assessment completed in late 2020 reveals a stark housing shortage and great housing need.
In 2019, the average price for a single family home was $939,066. For a townhouse, $686,849. And for a condo, $501,352. Based on these prices, the average single-detached home and townhouse is unaffordable to any household in Victoria earning the median income. Only condos are affordable for couples with children and other families earning the median income. A household requires an annual income of approximately $105,000 for a condo to be affordable (e.g. spending less than 30% of before-tax household income), and $145,000 annual income for a townhouse.
The median rent in 2019 was $1,150, which would require an annual income of approximately $50,520 to be affordable. Renter households relying on a single income are likely struggle to find affordable and suitable housing in Victoria. Renter households led by lone parents or households with at least one senior are the households most likely to be in core housing need. Being in core housing need means that people are living in housing that is inadequate, unsuitable, and/or currently unaffordable, and that they are unable to afford the median rent of alternative local housing.
The number of units the City’s needs assessment said were needed to meet demand between 2016 and 2020 was 2116. The actual number of building permits issued between 2015 and 2019 was 4516. Ninety-four point six per cent of these were for apartments and condos, 2.9% single family dwellings, 1.5% townhouses and 0.9% duplexes.
So … we doubled the number of units that were projected to be needed, yet here we are in 2021 with a rental vacancy rate hovering around 2 per cent, the cost of rent still increasing, house prices continuing to rise, and three bedroom units – from rentals, to condos to townhouses – suitable for families, almost impossible to come by.
We have a housing supply problem. If we don’t radically increase housing supply in the city in the near term, the results are going to be catastrophic. Some of the people at the public hearing Thursday who spoke in favour of the Washington Street townhouses said they wanted to stay in Victoria, not move out to Langford, but would never be able to afford a single family home here.
When people flee cities for suburban sprawl, the negative side effects include more time stuck in traffic and less time with family, a decrease in overall health outcomes, higher transportation costs, an increase in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss, as forests are cleared for new housing.
And, we also have a process problem. I’ve sat at the Council table for close to ten years and have become increasingly frustrated with how much time it takes to get a development through the process, and by the length of public hearings. The 20-unit Rhodo townhouse project on Fairfield Road took two and a half years to get approved and then a lawsuit to follow challenging the process. Thursday night, we sat in over four hours of public hearings to approve a mere 56 new homes. Our meeting ended at 1:11am. A few weeks ago, it took a three hour public hearing to approve one new small lot home. This is unnecessary process when we have a massive housing shortage on our hands.
Here are three big ideas to avoid catastrophe and make sure that there are enough homes in Victoria for people who want to live and work in Victoria.
Amend the City’s Official Community Plan and rezone the whole city so that any currently-zoned-single-family lot can have up to four units as of right (without a rezoning) and six units as of right if two are below market in perpetuity. The fourplexes and sixplexes would need to adhere to design guidelines that fit with existing neighbourhood contexts. Kelowna has done something similar on a pilot basis through their Infill Challenge and RU7 Zoning.
Get rid of parking minimums so that there are no parking requirements tied to the building of homes. As it stands right now, most city planning polices in North America require a certain number of parking spots to accompany most new residential buildings. Requiring parking adds expense to projects, locks in an unsustainable mode of transportation as the norm, and mandates the use of valuable city land for the storage of cars rather than for the housing of people. Last summer, Edmonton became the first major city in Canada to do this. Victoria should follow.
Change provincial legislation so that any project that fits within a community’s Official Community Plan and respective design guidelines does not require a public hearing. What this means is that there will be an opportunity for public input on Official Community Plan amendments but not on anything that fits within the Official Community Plan. At the same time the Province should create a mechanism to ensure that local governments are still able to receive public amenities in exchange for extra density. I hope that our bright, exceedingly competent, and keen Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister of Housing will put their heads together and work with local governments to make this necessary legislative change as soon as possible.
These three ideas taken together will drastically increase the supply of housing in our city, help to make housing more affordable by increasing supply (although supply alone will not solve the affordability crisis for those living in poverty), and help to avoid the high costs of suburban sprawl. Implementing these ideas will also lead to better community making as the young man who spoke at the public hearing so eloquently put it.
I wanted to started this email / post with the op-ed I wrote for the Times Colonist on Thursday, which marked one year of the global health pandemic. The crafty headline writers at the paper gave it the title, “Can-do spirit of past year will help position city for the future.” I’m sharing it with all of you as a tribute to what we’ve all been through. If you wrote specifically about Clover Point or about homelessness and concerns with respect to parks sheltering and the plans to move people indoors, feel free to skip the op-ed and go right down to those headings. If you’d like to receive weekly updates, you can sign up here (top right hand side).
Can Do Spirit of Past Year Today marks one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic. The flag at City Hall is flying at half-mast to recognize and mourn the lives that have been lost.
Today is also a moment for reflection: how we came together to fight COVID-19; how our lives have changed; what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained. It’s also a time to look forward, towards recovery and to what kind of economy we build for the future.
Each of us probably remembers where we were the moment life changed. I was at the Victoria airport on March 11, 2020. I’d checked in and was waiting for my flight to Ottawa for a conference and minister meetings. My phone rang and it was staff at City Hall suggesting I reconsider travelling.
I remember telling the woman at the Air Canada boarding gate that I wouldn’t be on the flight. “You and almost everyone else,” she said. Recognizing me as the mayor she said, “Good luck to you … good luck to all of us,” with a real sense of foreboding.
It’s much more than luck that has carried us through the last year. It’s the skill, courage and sheer fortitude of those working in our health care system. They risked their lives to keep us all safe. They showed up for shifts in the early days of the pandemic when so much about the disease was unknown. They tended to the sick and the dying. They are COVID-19 heroes.
So too the bus drivers who kept transit running so people could get to work. The grocery store cashiers and clerks. The teachers who got kids back to school in uncertain conditions. The City workers who kept providing the services we depend on like garbage pick-up, street cleaning, running water.
When the world shut down and we were told to stay at home, to work from home, those who couldn’t and didn’t – for the benefit of us all – deserve our deepest thanks.
We did thank them early on, banging pots at 7 p.m. On front porches and in backyards throughout the region, every evening the loud clanging clatter of thanks. That simple act brought us together, lifted our spirits. But then it stopped, our spirits fizzled, and COVID-19 fatigue began to set in.
Our bubbles started to feel small. We couldn’t go for dinner with a friend, take a trip, enjoy a symphony concert or a play. Sing in our choirs. Attend church in person. Many have lost jobs or had their work hours cut. The pandemic widened existing cracks in the social safety net, leaving our most vulnerable neighbours in desperate need of housing and support. Our kids’ mental health worries us, and maybe our own mental health does too. Our small businesses are struggling.
There have been some silver linings. The region’s generosity was evident in the early months of the pandemic when the Times Colonist, Victoria Foundation and Jawl Family Foundation launched the Rapid Relief Fund with the aim of raising $1 million. In less than two months, contributions small and large totalled $6 million, all of which went directly to non-profits providing services to people hit hard by the pandemic.
The Build Back Victoria initiative last summer showed how quickly Council can act and how agile City Hall can be. Within weeks, dozens of patios and retail “flex spaces” sprung up across the city to create more space for businesses to serve customers. I’ve had a number of business owners tell me that Build Back Victoria is the reason they’re still open. And I’ve had residents say to me that they’ve never spent as much time or money on Government Street as they did last summer.
In all sectors, women, youth, Indigenous people, people of colour, and low-wage service workers have been disproportionately impacted. According to the South Island Prosperity Partnership’s Rebootrecovery vision, “we must collectively take bold steps to nurture a more inclusive and diversified economy.”
This has been one of the most difficult years in Victoria’s history. And we’ve made it through. In the coming months, let’s continue to use what we’ve learned during the pandemic – agility, deep collaboration, a can-do spirit – to position our city and our region for the future.
Clover Point Decision Recap Please see blog posts from February 28th and March 7th (head to Clover Point section in each post) for a more comprehensive explanation of the approach we’ve taken to Clover Point. In response to further emails this week, I’m sharing some information on the precise decision for those who may not have these details, and a link to the February 25th staff report. At the February 25 Committee of the Whole meeting, staff presented three options for the interim design of Clover Point Park. Council approved the below motion and we ratified it at our daytime Council meeting on March 4.
Interim Design Options for Parking and Pedestrian Space in Clover Point Park That Council direct staff to proceed with Option 2 for Clover Point Park:
Complete modifications to increase the pedestrian priority space in Clover Point Park, as illustrated in Attachment B, with an allocation of up to $275,000 in the 2021 Financial Plan, to be funded from the Buildings and Infrastructure Reserve.
That the painting budget be restricted to delineating pedestrian trails and bike trails versus passive space.
That a location be found downtown for the “follow the pod” public art feature.
That staff be in consultation with immigrants and immigrant associations, ethno-cultural groups and the seniors’ advisory committee, youth council and City of Victoria youth council, Fairfield Gonzales Community Association, Accessibility Advisory Committee, Active Transportation Advisory Committee, and that their views are considered.
That food trucks must use sustainable practices and must submit these practices to staff.
That the budget for furniture be reduced to $50,000.
You can find the staff report and Council’s discussion from February 25 here.
Update on Parks Sheltering and Moves Indoors(and what the City spends money on) Some of you who have written this week have asked us to ends parks sheltering immediately. Others have asked us to extend it indefinitely, or to the end of the pandemic. My hope is that Council sticks to our commitment, which is the middle ground between these two positions.
In November, Council passed a motion indicating that we would change the parks bylaw to end 24/7 sheltering once everyone currently living in parks has been offered an indoor sheltering space as a pathway to permanent housing. We had set a goal of March 31st. The Province and BC Housing accepted this goal and everyone has been working towards it. Parks are not homes. And Beacon Hill Park is not a campground. Parks have been used as emergency shelters in an emergency situation. A huge shout out to our parks staff who are working so hard to maintain Beacon Hill Park even in these very difficult circumstances. Please thank them when you see them.
As of this week the Province announced that it has secured a sufficient number of indoor spaces to support moving people inside. Because two of the sites secured this month require significant additional retrofitting to prepare them for use as emergency shelters, the process will continue until the end of April 2021, rather than the end of March as originally planned. Announcement of the final site list will be done in partnership with the city in the coming weeks once all of the agreements between BC Housing and the property owners have closed.
Following through on its commitment, at our evening Council meeting last Thursday, Council gave three readings to a parks bylaw amendment that would see the end of 24/7 sheltering as of May 1st. Council will consider adoption of the bylaw this Thursday.
All the indoor sheltering locations will be fully operational, with non-profit service providers identified, by April 30, 2021. At these locations, staff will be on site 24/7 to provide wraparound supports, including meal programs, life skills training, and health and wellness support services.
Fifty-seven people have moved inside since the beginning of March and moves will continue this coming week. People have moved inside from Ellis Street in Rock Bay, Cecelia Ravine Park, and 940 Caledonia. This site will be closed as of March 19th to make way for a Tiny Home development, subject to the outcome of an opportunity for the public to comment on the project at Council Thursday evening.
We expect a minimum of 52 moves this coming week into Capital City Centre and other sites. BC Housing is prioritizing people over 50 (down from 55), those at risk of COVID-19, those who are long-time homeless, and Indigenous people.
Here are four questions that one person has asked; they reflect questions from others of you as well. I have answered them a number of times – in some form – since August when I began weekly updates. Please read previous posts if you require further or more detailed information. You can find them here.
1. Why did you allow 24/7 camping in parks in the first place, given that this was not a requirement of the BC Ministry of Health? A global pandemic was declared. Shelters closed. Couch-surfing ended. Bubbles got small. And people had nowhere to go. The City allowed people who had nowhere to go when everyone was told to stay at home to shelter in place. Dr. Henry advised on June 8th 2020 in a memo to all mayors in British Columbia that encampments should not be cleared unless there were safe indoor spaces for people to go. At this time, she has not rescinded her advice or sent any further memos. That’s why we’ve been working hard with the Province to secure safe indoor spaces so that we can move people inside and end encampments.
2. Why didn’t you admit the mistake and reverse course when it quickly became clear that 24/7 camping was a disastrous decision? While there have been many difficulties with this situation for everyone involved, I don’t believe it is a mistake. I think there would have been a greater risk of the spread of COVID-19 had 200 to 400 people had to take down their tents every morning and move throughout the city. Plus, there was literally nowhere for people to go. Even Our Place and the library closed, two places where people without homes can spend time during the day.
3. Why are you intending to allow 7pm – 7am camping in parks after all campers have been offered accommodation? The BC Supreme Court decision does not require cities to allow camping in urban parks except when there is no sheltering alternative. I agree. The goal is to have no camping in city parks and to have adequate indoor sheltering space for everyone who needs it. The goal is to achieve what is called “functional zero” when it comes to homelessness. What this means is that if someone becomes homeless, there is room in the emergency shelter and housing system to catch them immediately and to meet their needs, however complex, before their situation becomes chronic.
The 2009 BC Supreme Court decision ruled that people who have no homes have the right to erect shelters overnight. The decision uses words like “adequate sheltering alternative” or something like this. So it’s not just as simple as the number of shelter beds that may be available on a given night. If for example, someone is in recovery from drug or alcohol use and the only shelter beds available are ones where drug use and/or alcohol consumption is permitted, that may not be considered an “adequate” shelter for that person. The Supreme Court decision is not a simple numbers game.
4. Why do you refuse to acknowledge the extent to which the homeless population in Victoria consists of people from outside the region? We will never get ahead of the problem of housing so many people when there is a large and steady influx from other provinces. What the bi-annual Point In Time Count shows is that the majority of people who are homeless in Victoria are from British Columbia. And, Council unanimously voted last August to ask the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) table to prioritize people for housing who have lived in the CRD for at least a year. Council does not make decisions about who gets housed. You can read the August 6th recommendation to Council from myself and Councillors Thornton-Joe, Loveday and Alto here. (See item J3.)
There seems to be a narrative emerging in some of the emails we’ve received, and probably also on social media, that instead of “wasting” money on bike lanes and Clover Point, the City should be spending money instead on housing, mental health and addictions. At then there is also a narrative that Council focuses on issues that are beyond our scope and that we should stay focused on what is properly within a municipal mandate.
Health care and housing are clearly – and constitutionally – the responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments. The City can and does partner with both levels of government; we sometimes provide land for housing. And we have a housing reserve fund in which we deposit $650,000 per year to help fund the creation of non-market housing by non-profit housing providers. But we are not responsible for housing, health care, mental health and addictions supports and we don’t have the revenue raising capacity or tools to fund these important services.
But cities are supposed to spend money on parks and improvements to transportation infrastructure. And, contrary to what seems like popular belief, most of the bike infrastructure in Victoria is not funded through property taxes. It is funded through gas tax funding which is remitted to local governments from the federal government each year and can only be used to fund sustainable projects. The City of Victoria is not alone in developing a high-quality bike network. This article, “Europe doubles down on cycling in post-COVID recovery plans,” celebrates the explosion of cycling infrastructure across Europe.
And just one more thing in this regard, because it gets raised so often: we spend millions every year paving roads and filling potholes. At the same time as we are building bike lanes and improving parks – to deliver on the City’s 20-year paving and road maintenance plan – we are increasing the paving budget up to a steady state of $7.9 million per year by 2023.
Road Paving – Major and Local Streets
Year Budget 2018 $2.8 million 2019 $2.6 million 2020 $5.5 million 2021 $5.2 million 2022 (proposed) $6.3 million 2023 (proposed) $7.9 million
“So, as the proud mother of a son who is both chronically disabled and homeless due to serious mental illness and has managed to survive on the streets of Victoria for many years: may I say that just LOOKING at the ‘Shelter Referral Card’ does some kind of deep healing to my heart. I don’t even know that my son is ever going to receive one of these, but just knowing that people like him are is deeply, deeply encouraging to me.
I know that you and certain other concerned councillors are receiving a LOT of flack for these efforts from people who have no personal interest in really trying to understand the complex issue of homelessness. Please know that there are MANY more mothers and brothers and sisters and grandparents out there who are BLESSING YOUR SOUL for this work, every single day.”
She shared this article with me from The Capital Daily, where parents of homeless Victorians speak. To all the parents, grandparents and siblings of people who are homeless out there in our city or across the province or country, we know it’s not their fault, and it’s not your fault either. The health and housing system fails those with the most chronic needs, over and over again. This is why we are working together with the Province and the federal government to make sure that the housing and health care systems work better together, and work for everyone.
This is a sample of the card that people who are living outside will get when they are offered an indoor 24/7 space as a pathway to permanent housing.
Thanks for your emails this past week. As always, to ensure a timely response, I’m writing back to all of you at once. If there is additional information that you’re looking for with respect to sheltering in parks, the move to indoors, or Clover Point, please head directly to my blog here and check back over the past few weeks and months. If you’d like to receive a weekly email you can sign up here, top right hand side.
I’d like to begin by asking everyone to take a moment of silence for the two people who died this week in Beacon Hill Park.
In a country as prosperous as Canada, a province as prosperous as British Columbia, and a city as prosperous as Victoria no one should die alone, outside, in a park.
Many of your emails this week echo concerns we’ve heard from many months now about the situation of people sheltering outside. You want to know what the plan is. Many of you express frustration at the situation, are worried about some of the violence you’re hearing about. Others are worried about those who are living outside who are vulnerable and subject to violence, stigma and discrimination. You want us to do more, and to do better, and to do quickly.
For the past year, we’ve been in our small bubbles, not able to go for dinner with a friend, take a trip, enjoy a symphony concert or a play. Sing in our choirs. Attend church in person. Some have lost jobs. Our kids’ mental health has been stretched, and maybe our own mental health has too. Some of us have been living outside in tents for months. We’re quick to anger, blame. Our frustration is boiling over. One year into a global health pandemic everyone is on edge.
I will out outline the plan for getting people indoors, I’ll respond to your other concerns, and I’ll update and recap the Clover Point decision. In the meantime, what I’d like to ask for, from everyone, over the next weeks and months as we come out the other side of the pandemic and the parks sheltering situation, is for all of us to work together to take the temperature down. I was reminded recently of a really simple piece of wisdom: when in doubt be generous. Generous in spirit. Generous in the face of anger, frustration, confrontation.
Indoor Sheltering Plan Please share this section of the blog post widely with anyone who has questions about what to expect in the next few weeks. I’ll keep it tight and factual.
In November, Council adopted this motion:
“That the City of Victoria works with the Province and other partners to offer housing or indoor shelter with a path to permanent housing for everyone currently sheltering in City parks by March 31st 2021 and directs staff to bring forward amendments to the Parks Regulation Bylaw so that the temporary measures including 24/7 camping expire on March 31st 2021. Final adoption of these amendments are to be scheduled once it is clear that adequate housing and shelter space will be made available by the March 31st deadline.”
Since November, the Province, the City and many others have worked together to follow through on this direction. Here is what has happened in the past week and what to expect in the next few weeks.
This week 49 people moved inside, 45 into the arena and four into other locations. Most of the moves happened from Ellis Street, Cecilia Ravine Park, and the Royal Athletic Park parking lot.
All parks where people are living and most of the people living in them are known to BC Housing. BC Housing, PEERs and others have been working in parks for the past couple of months to ensure that everyone has housing applications filled out.
Having a housing application filled out is the pathway to permanent housing. People can do so here.
All move ins are being organized through the Coordinated Assessment and Access (CAA) process.
Offers are not being made on a park by park basis, but based on the CAA process and individual housing applications. Everyone who has been identified as living in an encampment in a city park will be made an offer in the coming weeks.
The CAA table meets every Tuesday to evaluate applications.
The following spaces have been identified / confirmed: 45 Arena (full) 52 Capital City Centre 30 Tiny Homes 5 Mt Edwards 15 Comfort Inn Annex 5 Youth Hostel Total Confirmed Units: 152 These numbers are subject to change and are the latest available information as of Friday March 5th. Approximate number of units short: 50-70-ish
We expect more sheltering opportunities to become available in the coming weeks. We don’t know where these will be.
In addition to these 152 identified units, there are other spaces that are available mostly to people already living in shelters, motels or supportive housing. As these people move into these other spaces, this will create more spaces for people coming directly out of parks. This is a slow process.
There are 24 units at Hockley House, a new Capital Regional Housing Corporation (CRHC) building in Langford that rent at $375 per month; 13 people have been identified so far to move in there at the end of March, CRHC is evaluating applications. The remaining 11 spaces will be assigned through the CAA process and applications forwarded to the CRHC.
There are approximately 30 two-bedroom units that rent at $1625 per month in a new CRHC building in View Royal. These would be suitable for roommates with one rent supplement each. There are approximately 70, $825-per-month rent supplements available through BC Housing. These are available to rent market apartments and are for people who can live independently. The two-bedroom, roommate situation is on the CAA’s radar but difficult to coordinate.
This coming week, offers will be made for Capital City Centre and move ins will begin the week of March 15th.
In the coming weeks, offers will be made to the other locations noted above, and to other locations as they become available.
The criteria being used to prioritize people – with the most vulnerable being offered spaces first – is over 55, risk of COVID-19, long-time homeless, Indigenous.
Island Health has been part of the planning for the move-ins over the past few months and will work to ensure that people have the physical health, mental health and other supports they may need as they move inside.
When people receive an offer they will get a card as pictured above and will be assisted to move into the identified location.
Not everyone will be offered a motel room; those who move into the non-motel room spaces like the arena and others that may become available, will move into permanent housing first.
If you turn down an invitation to go indoors, you may still be considered for future shelter or housing opportunities. There is no guarantee of another opportunity, but applications will remain valid and will be considered as vacancies are available in the BC Housing system.
24/7 sheltering ending is contingent on people already identified in encampments being offered a 24/7 indoor sheltering space as a pathway to permanent housing. A motion of Council is required to re-instate the 7pm-7am only sheltering bylaw.
Other Sheltering Related Questions and Concerns Some of you have raised other questions and concerns that aren’t covered above. I’ll do my best to address them here, again with a numbered list for ease and readability! I do like to write in paragraphs rather than lists but also want to make sure that I share as much information as possible in as concise a way as possible. I’ll go back to paragraphs once we get to the other side.
Some people will need more help and support than supportive housing can offer. This is why myself and the 12 other mayors in the province that make up the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus – which are all facing the same homelessness, mental health and substance use crises – are working with Ministers Eby and Malcolmson on Complex Care Housing. Please read our recent op-ed to learn more.
Our police officers, bylaw officers, parks and public works staff are all doing incredibly difficult work in very challenging circumstances. I, like many of you, am grateful to them for their work. I will continue to support funding and resource requests to ensure they have they have what they need to do their work.
Some of you have asked, “What has happened to our once beautiful city?” Part of my PhD research focused on Victoria in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. I read hundreds of reels of microfilm of Victoria’s daily newspapers, and people then were asking the exact same question. What is happening to our city and other cities across the province and country, is that we are in the middle of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now, like then, those who are suffering the most are the most visible. In the 1930s, people were upset to see jobless men in bread lines, the long line ups at the City’s relief office, and a feeling of general disorder and upheaval. In 2020-2021, it is people without homes living in parks that are the most visible. What we’re seeing now is the manifestation of the pandemic, just as in the 1930s what Victorians witnessed was the manifestation of the Great Depression.
This is not to dismiss the challenges facing us. I have read all your emails. I share your concerns. The situation we are in with people living in parks in the middle of a global health pandemic isn’t good for anyone. Hence the plan above. Council and city staff are working hard every day with our dedicated and committed partners to address the issues that many of you have raised. This is a tough problem and it takes a lot of people working collaboratively and a lot of time to resolve.
Some of you have asked myself and Council to support no sheltering in Central Park. I do support this, as well no sheltering in Centennial Square and Cecelia Ravine Park. Downtown, North Park and Burnside Gorge already host most of the shelters and supportive housing units in the city.
Thank you to those of you who have sent suggestions, from buying old ferries to temporarily house people to sharing what Finland has done to end homelessness. All these creative ideas are welcome.
Clover Point I understand that we touched a nerve with Clover Point. I think this is probably because the idea was sprung on you with no warning. I get how this is unsettling and disruptive, especially in the middle of a pandemic with so much uncertainty already. Those creature comforts and familiar experiences like sitting in a car watching that waves at Clover Point are really important.
I won’t recap everything I shared in my email / blog post last week about why now and the interim nature of the changes. For those of you who haven’t yet read that post, with all the details, I would really appreciate it if you take the time to do so. You can find the information here; skip down to the Clover Point heading.
And thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Some of you who want Clover Point to remain exactly as it was say that you sharing your perspectives with me is not going to change my mind. But hearing your thoughts and perspectives over the past few weeks did change my mind from making Clover Point pedestrian only to moving towards a middle ground. This new compromise option is temporary – let’s see how it goes and how the space is used over the next couple of years.
Turning the Problem Around Many of you have written with points of view that are very different from mine, whether it’s about Clover Point, parks sheltering, downtown, the role of cities, the Vancouver Street bike lanes and more. The gift of being mayor is that I get to read all these different points of view. And I consider them all; that’s my job.
In a book I finished recently, Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities, Adam Kahane writes about a team that he worked with to develop democracy in post-apartheid South Africa: “When they listened, they were not just reloading their old tapes. They were receptive to new ideas. More than that, they were willing to be influenced and changed. They held their ideas lightly; they noticed and questioned their own thinking; they separated themselves from their ideas (‘I am not my ideas, and so you and I can reject them without rejecting me’). They ‘suspended’ their ideas, as if on strings from the ceiling, and walked around and looked at these ideas from different perspectives.”
Thanks for your emails over the past couple of weeks. I really appreciate hearing from all of you and want to ensure you get a timely response, so I’m writing you back all at once. I may not address the details of your email precisely, but I want you to know I’ve read them.
I’m going to take a bit of a different tack than usual and provide a succinct summary of the issues and facts as I understand them. Interested in Clover Point? Skip to that heading. Interested in the plans provide 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunities as a pathway to permanent housing to everyone living in our parks over the next 31 days? Please skip to that heading. Want to receive a weekly email? You can sign up here (top right hand side). Interested in none of the above and just want a dose of inspiration from Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom? Skip right to the end.
Before diving into either topic, I just wanted to say that there’s sure a lot of passion and thoughtfulness in my email inbox from all of you these past few weeks. I appreciate the thoughtfulness, passion and the stories that you’ve taken the time to share. And I also really appreciate those of you who have said that you’ve never written to mayor and council before but felt the need to do so. Thank you.
What I find a bit harder to take are the personal attacks (there aren’t too many of those but important not just note the positive!). And also the fact that it’s becoming more difficult generally to have a difference of opinion without becoming enemies or falling into the I’m Right and You’re An Idiot (great book I highly recommend it, or skip the book and hear the talk) way of thinking. Making each other into enemies doesn’t get us anywhere and it makes it more difficult to resolve issues and solve complex problems.
People love this place very much and there are strong feelings in the community – both in the city and the region – that it should be kept the way it’s always been.
It’s been a parking loop since 1956.
Before the sewage treatment construction began, the plan was to return it to a parking loop after construction finished.
Before the sewage treatment construction began, the plan was for what is now the highly used multi-use trail that runs from Clover Point to Ogden Point be a bike path only.
Near the end of the sewage treatment construction, staff recommended to Council that the path be for everyone – not just for people riding bikes – because we are in a pandemic and everyone needs more outdoor space. Council voted in favour of this recommendation.
Staff saw that this new multi-use pathway quickly became much loved with hundreds of people using it on a daily basis. They thought it might be a good idea to create more pedestrian space at Clover Point, on an interim basis, since the new pedestrian space along the waterfront was being so well-used.
Staff proposed to close Clover Point to cars and create parking, including accessible parking at the top of the loop as an interim treatment until a proper consultation plan for more permanent changes is undertaken, which is planned for 2023.
Many of you have made some great suggestions for Clover Point that can be considered as part of the longer term planning process.
When staff presented the original pedestrian-only design to Council on February 11th, Council voted to send it back to staff to come up with an option which would reflect the feedback we had all received from the community and to come up with a compromise.
On February 25th staff came back to Council with a number of options including one that best represented a compromise among those who wanted the park to only be open to pedestrians and those who wanted nothing to change. This option creates new westward facing parking spots at the top of the loop and keeps half of the loop on the east side open for people in cars. There are accessible parking spots in both locations.
As part of the discussion on the 25th, Council eliminated the proposal for painting of the pavement (except lines to separate pedestrians and cyclists) as well as eliminating the Orca play feature.
Council voted 8-1 in favour of the compromise option.
There are no permanent changes being made to the area. Everything that is being installed can be easily removed, with the exception of the new parking spaces at the top of the loop near Dallas Rd.
The option that Council chose does not satisfy everyone and many of you are unhappy with this decision, with myself, and with Council. Some of you feel like we are changing the city too much, that we are “anti-car” and that we should just leave the city as it has always been.
Cities around the world, from Paris, to Oakland,to Toronto, to small cities in Quebec and many others, are rethinking the purpose of streets, cities and city life, and are making decisions to get cities ready for the future. This includes accommodating increased density, greater populations, low-carbon transport, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and more places for more people.
The interim changes at Clover Point, as well as the City’s bike network and complete streets approach that some of you who have written this week are also unhappy about, are directly in line with what other cities across the country and around the world are doing. Victoria is not leading and we are not any different. The bike network, complete streets and the interim design at Clover Point fit with the City’s Climate Leadership Plan as well as our Sustainable Mobility Strategy.
Many of you have said that the myself and Council don’t care about seniors or accessibility issues, yet Victoria is one of the few municipalities in British Columbia that has taken the time to engage seniors and people with accessibility challenges and to have developed both a Senior’s Action Plan and an Accessibility Framework.
We are not going to make everyone happy. Many of you who have written this past week about Clover Point are unhappy. I understand that. Change is hard. I don’t mean this in a patronizing way that some of you have heard it in. I mean it sincerely. Change is hard. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for Council. It is definitely easier to leave everything the same, as it has always been. There is less tension that way. Less friction. Less division. Less emails to read! 🙂 But also the job of leaders is to make the changes now that are necessary, if difficult, in order to get our city ready for the future.
Parks Sheltering andIndoor Sheltering These points below are as direct as answers as possible to your questions, comments and concerns. I have been writing almost every Sunday since August to keep the community up to date on the parks and indoor sheltering situation. If you don’t find all the information you need here, please feel free to scroll through my blog .
The City and the Province along with outreach workers, housing providers, Island Health, and others are working to offer everyone currently living in parks a 24/7 indoor sheltering space by March 31st as a pathway to permanent housing.
The move ins begin on Monday to the Save on Foods Memorial Arena. There are also spaces at the Youth Hostel, additional motel rooms at Capital City Centre that will be opening, the 30 Tiny Homes (subject to a temporary use permit hearing), and 24 new homes at Hockley House in Langford that rent at $375 per month. The Province is still working to secure more spaces by March 31st. Minister Eby has said they are going to “overshoot” so that no one is left behind.
Those of you who are living outside who have filled out BC Housing applications will be given “offer cards” to let you know where you have an offer to move in. You will be provided assistance with moves. The Coordinated Assessment and Access table responsible for these offers is working hard to meet the needs that people have identified. People are free to refuse the offers of 24/7 indoor sheltering. Those who choose not to go inside will need to take their tents down every morning, as 24/7 sheltering will come to an end once all the offers have been made. My understanding is that most people who are living outside have filled out housing applications and want to move inside.
This Thursday Council will consider changing the bylaws back to 7pm to 7am sheltering, once everyone has been offered indoor space. We will also consider keeping Central Park and Centennial Square as no camping zones. I support all of these proposals.
For those who having been living in the parks during a global health pandemic when everyone has been told to stay at home, I know this has been difficult. It is not safe for people to be living in parks, as parks are not homes. There is no sense of security for those of you who live in tents with no privacy, no four walls, no door to lock, nowhere to truly rest. We hear you and that is why we’re working hard with the Province to meet the goal we set to get you inside on the pathway to permanent housing.
For those of you who have been living near parks where people have been sheltering since the outbreak of the pandemic, and for those who love our parks and especially Beacon Hill, I also know this has also been very difficult for you. It’s sometimes scary for some, disturbing for others, heartbreaking for others, and angering and frustrating to some. We hear you, and that’s why we’re working hard as noted above.
Some of you have said it was a mistake to allow 24/7 sheltering during the pandemic. As noted, it has been difficult for everyone but I disagree that it’s a mistake. A global pandemic was declared. Shelters closed. Couch-surfing ended. Bubbles got small. And people had nowhere to go. Dr. Henry advised on June 8th 2020 in a memo to all mayors in British Columbia that encampments should not be cleared unless there were safe indoor spaces for people to go. At this time, she has not rescinded her advice or sent any further memos.
Some of you are frustrated that bylaws aren’t being followed or enforced. Our bylaw staff are in parks daily working with the people who are living there to achieve compliance. There are 200 people living in nine parks. The City’s bylaw officers are doing their very best balancing the needs of people forced to live outside in the middle of a global health pandemic and keeping parks available for everyone to use. Their work is very difficult.
Some of you don’t feel safe in parks and wonder what we are doing about crime in parks. VicPD officers are available to respond to calls as needed just as in other parts of the City. Council has also approved additional funding for police to accompany bylaw.
Some of you have said that you feel completely safe using Beacon Hill Park and other parks and don’t want people who are poor and living outside to be seen as dangerous or criminals when they are really just vulnerable.
Some of you have said it’s impossible to end homelessness, and there are too many people with too many challenges out there. I’ve felt this way too. There have been decades of neglect and under investment in housing and supports, treatment and recovery and care for those who need it. But with the federal and provincial governments prepared to once again invest heavily in housing and treatment, we will turn a corner on this important issue in the next couple of years.
Some of you have addressed the need for a civilian response in parks rather than bylaw and police. The City is working with our Community Wellness Task Force as well as Island Health and VicPD to create such a response team with clear roles and responsibilities for different parties.
Some of you have sent creative ideas for indoor sheltering from purchasing cruise ships to sleeping pods. Thanks as always for your suggestions. Right now we are ruthlessly focused on solutions that can be achieved by March 31st and at the same time c planning, processing and constructing permanent housing. There are hundreds of units on the way.
A Dose of Inspiration I find it helpful through these challenging times to maintain a connection to the world-that-is-bigger-than-each-of-us. Rachel Naomi Renen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Healis a reminder of wholeness and connection. She writes, “We are all here for a single purpose: to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better. We can do this through losing as well as by winning, by having and by not having, by succeeding or by failing. All we need to do is to show up openhearted for class.”
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this week to share your thoughts, questions and concerns with respect to outdoor sheltering in parks and related issues. I’ve read all of your emails and I’m responding to them all together so that you all get an answer in a timely way. Some of you have requested a personal response. This is my personal response. It’s heartfelt, hopefully informative and assures you that I’ve read your emails and am hearing your concerns. If you have a specific bylaw related concern, please report it here.
This email will be short compared to my past Sunday emails as I’ve received fewer emails this week and a more narrow series of concerns. For those who want more general information about sheltering in parks and what the City and Province are doing to address it, please read last week’s email here. There is an outline of the steps we are taking with the Province and the plans that we are putting in place. If you’d like to receive regular updates you can sign up here (top right hand corner).
But in the meantime, some of you have other questions. With respect to enforcing the current sheltering bylaws, our bylaw staff are in parks daily working with the people who are living there to achieve compliance and to give people as much information as they can about what is expected. Some of you have expressed a lot of frustration about bylaws not being followed. There are 200 people living in nine parks. The City’s bylaw officers are doing their very best balancing the needs of people forced to live outside in the middle of a global health pandemic with bylaw enforcement and keeping parks available for everyone to use. Their work is very difficult.
A couple of people have written about the increasing number of people at Irving Park and that some people have begun to camp too close to the playground, where the kids from the nearby daycare usually play. We’ve made bylaw staff aware of this and they will (or have already) attend Irving Park to help ensure that the space is available for both the people who are living outside and for the kids to play. Thanks to the person who wrote and pointed out that this has been working pretty well until recently.
Some of you have written this week thanking me for work that myself and Council have been doing to address the current situation of outdoor sheltering and recognizing what a difficult situation this is for everyone. Others have written saying that we are doing a terrible job, or worse.
Some of you have said in response to my email last Sunday that you don’t care what is happening across the country or the province, you only care about what is happening in Victoria. The reason I shared all the information from elsewhere is to show that Victoria is not any different from other major cities across the country or the province.
In this Times Colonist piece, “Complex-care housing could help solve the B.C. dilemma,” that I co-authored with Brian Frenkel, a Vanderhoof City Councillor and the president of UBCM as well as Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran with whom I chair the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus, we lay out very clearly that, “A deadly drug supply and the effects of untreated addictions and severe mental illness are visible daily on our streets, doorways, in our parks, and — in more remote and rural areas — in forests and secluded places where people are a long way from help.”
It’s not just Toronto, Montreal, London, and other places I cited last week. There are people sleeping outside 24/7 in View Royal, Saanich, Sooke, Sidney. It’s just that they are more hidden than in Victoria which is a tiny municipality with no forested areas, only city parks. These aren’t excuses or deflections as some of you have suggested, these are just facts. And they are really difficult ones for all of us to face. It should shock us that there are people living outside in the middle of a global health pandemic in a country as prosperous as Canada.
Every day myself, members of Council, city staff, BC Housing, Island Health, the provincial housing ministry, and all the amazing front line workers in the parks are working towards the March 31st goal of offering everyone currently living in parks an indoor space.
Many of you have asked this week, will we really do this by March 31st and what happens after this. For awhile I felt like I was the only one who believed that we would actually be able to offer everyone an indoor space by the end of March. But over the past few weeks, Minster Eby, BC’s Housing Minister has unequivocally and repeatedly stated that he also believes this is possible. Please take the time to read this fantastic interview with him in today’s Times Colonist. I know that his staff as well as BC Housing staff are working very hard to secure spaces for everyone. I know this is an expensive prospect. But it’s not nearly as expensive as the financial, social, health and environmental costs of people living outside. And housing is also a human right.
People who choose not to go into an indoor location will need to take down their tents every morning as per the City’s parks bylaw, and those currently sleeping in RVs or vans in Beacon Hill Park will also have to move. Beacon Hill Park is not a campground; it is an emergency sheltering location.
What we’re finding, is that contrary to myths and popular belief, most people living outside do want to move inside into safe secure housing with a door they can lock behind them. We also know that some people will want and need support and especially peer support from people who have themselves recovered from homelessness. The Greater Coalition to End Homelessness has a fantastic peer housing support program that is funded by BC Housing and will be an important element of a successful transition for people moving in.
A key principle of Housing First, which is a proven approach to housing, is that choice is really important to successful housing outcomes and good for people’s sense of dignity. If you are a woman who has experienced sexual abuse in a congregate housing setting, you may prefer a transitional tiny home or a motel room. If you are some who knows that you live better in community than isolated in a room of your own, you may choose a congregate setting like the arena or the My Place shelter.
In May, in the early days of the pandemic emergency when people were rushed off the Pandora boulevard and Topaz Park into motel rooms and the arena, there was little assessment and little ability for people to share their needs or to have much choice in their housing. Now, since Council set the March 31st goal in November, outreach workers, medical providers, and BC Housing staff have more of a sense of who is living outside and what they need for a successful transition indoors.
Everyone will fill out a housing application (if you are living outside and haven’t filled out an application you can find supportive housing applications here and affordable housing applications here) and everyone will be offered an indoor space through the Coordinated Assessment and Access process that is run by BC Housing, Island Health and the Capital Regional District.
I know this seems like a lot of detail about the process, but some of you have asked very detailed questions about how all of this will work, and I want to give comprehensive answers.
Your Suggestions As always, I’m grateful when people take the time to send ideas and suggestions. Someone wrote:
“A few years ago I saw a clip from a Seattle news program where a small company (under 10 people) ‘adopted’ (for lack of a better word) a needy family. Problematic ‘tent cities’ fill our TV screens daily with numerous problems; children going hungry – so sad! It could be any of us!
“What if: 1 company contributed and cared for 1 individual (or family) for a year period?! the person (or family) would not know where their assistance is coming from. This ‘gift-support’ would be in addition to whatever they receive from the government and without tax penalty. Everyone needs a little additional help sometime.”
A similar idea is getting life right here in Victoria, not with companies (although I know there have been many corporate donors to the Transitional Tiny Home Community), but with individuals and churches. There a a group of people organizing to think creatively about how a person or group of people could top up a BC Housing rent supplement so that someone could afford to rent an apartment with a rent supplement plus a top up. I find it inspiring that residents are coming together to self-organize in this way.
Someone else wrote and suggested:
“My idea would be to build a large compound in the middle of somewhere far from cities and people who want to get off drugs and get clean could sign up (voluntarily, of course) and live in the compound for a minimum of 2 years. During this period they would learn a trade. They would also farm most of their food (supplies would be brought in monthly to bolster food, clothing, medicine etc), they would learn trades like sewing, mechanics, farming, woodworking, marketing. The could sell their products to allow the compound to thrive. They would also earn a daily wage which would go into a bank account in their name.
“Once the 2 years is up they could then leave and they would be assisted in obtaining employment in their trade. They would be given an apartment with the first 6 months of rent paid, and of course they would have their 2 years of wages in the bank account that they earned while in the compound. I think this would actually be a good solution to a very difficult problem. There are a few things though that would make this idea work: The compound has to be far away from any city. Too far to walk or drive. The compound must be voluntary for a minimum of 2 years. There will be a female side and a male side to avoid any situations where mingling could create a problem. Rules would need to be enforced. Trades are mandatory and part of the rehab.”
A program very similar to what is described here exists in View Royal called New Roads and run by Our Place Society. There are spaces available right now for men who are ready to voluntarily enter a 14 month to two year program to recover from an addiction. While the program doesn’t have all the elements that this thoughtful resident described, it does have many of them.
Finally, someone sent this inspiring article, Beautiful Micro-House Built in Sustainable Community For Formerly Homeless Folks. The Transitional Tiny Home Community proposed in Victoria is a version of this concept. It is not permanent housing but rather a transitional resting place until permanent housing is available. And like the article, which outlines a community effort in Austin Texas, the Transitional Tiny Home Community is an effort of the private and non-profit sectors as well as citizens and governments coming together to take a creative approach to temporary housing.
To Those Who Think I’m Doing A Terrible Job Thank you especially for taking the time to write and share your thoughts. I hear the frustration and anger in some of your emails. Being balanced and generous in my responses to your frustration and anger, doesn’t make my emails “fluff”, what I’m trying to do is to be respectful and to connect, human to human.
The sarcasm, and sometimes mean spiritedness as you make your points, and repeated rants against the bike lanes as a tag on to everything else you think I’ve done wrong are a bit hard to take. But maybe you’re feeling really stressed by the pandemic, or going through a hard time of your own. I want you to know that I hear you. I don’t simply roll my eyes and delete your emails. Because I believe in diversity of thought and a variety of perspectives.
What I also know to be true is that to solve the tough problems facing us – homelessness, a pending economic depression and the survival of our beloved local businesses, income inequality, racism, climate change, building a city for the 21st and 22nd century – we need to really communicate with each other.
“Our most common way of talking is telling: asserting the truth about the way things are and must be, not allowing that there might be other truths and possibilities. And our most common way of listening is not listening: listening only to our own talking, not to others … A complex problem can only be solved peacefully if the people who are part of the problem work together creatively to understand their situation and to improve it.”
Here’s to other truths and possibilities. And to creative solutions.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week with your concerns, feedback and suggestions about sheltering in parks, housing, homelessness and related issues. In order to make sure I respond to everyone in a timely way, I’m writing back to you all at once. I’ve been doing this since August.
For those of you who have written for the first time this past week and would like a bit more background on what the City and Province are doing to end 24/7 sheltering by March 31st, please take the time to read through previous posts. The two recent posts that have been read the most (and that I therefore assume have useful and relevant information!) are this one from January 3rd and this one from January 10th. To receive a weekly update you can sign up here.
I use headings so you can skip to the section that is of most interest. Though I’m always happy when people tell me they read through the whole email, as there’s lots of information.
59 Days and Your Concerns and Suggestions Many of you have written this week with ongoing concerns about people sheltering outside and have noted the negative impact this is having on you, especially those of you who live near the sheltering sights. What I find moving is that most of your emails are couched in compassion – you understand the difficult plight and the vulnerability of people sleeping outside, but you have your own concerns too.
You’ve had to add security cameras, you’ve had items stolen, you’re not feeling safe in your own homes, you’re going to sleep with stress and waking up with stress. Or you’re not able to sleep because of loud music, or someone having a mental health breakdown, or yelling and fighting. And you have to wake up to go to work in the morning, to keep your job and your own sanity during the pandemic. You feel like I don’t hear you, like I’m not listening.
And now I can already hear the emails in response to this one telling me that by acknowledging the concerns of housed residents I am demonizing people who are homeless, saying that they are all criminals, or all have mental health challenges, etc. I’m of course not saying this. I’ve spoken with some of you who are living outside and I know that you all have your own story and that everyone’s situation is unique.
I’ve asked many people over the past 10 months who have expressed concerns and say that I don’t hear them what would make them feel heard. What would make you feel heard? And the answer that I’ve received, repeatedly, is “Get people out of parks and parking lots and into proper housing with supports. Do something!”
There are 59 days left until March 31st to offer everyone currently sleeping in a park an indoor sheltering opportunity as a pathway to permanent housing. We made some good progress this week and have now identified a total of 127 indoor spaces. This week the Province announced that it will re-open 45 spaces in the Save on Foods Memorial arena on March 1st.
This week also a youth hostel opened with 27 spaces for youth ages 19-24. Some of these youth will be coming directly from parks, others from existing sheltering sites, freeing up space for others to move in from parks. The youth hostel is a new approach to housing that’s an opportunity for both housing and employment. The program has been co-designed by youth who moved out of Topaz Park into the Travelodge last May, along with the youth staff at the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. Please take the time to listen to this amazing interview on CBC by a very bright young man, Jarvis Neglia, who is the project lead.
That takes us to 72 spaces. In addition, between 25 to 30 rooms at the Capital City Centre Motel will re-open in the middle of February so that takes us, conservatively speaking, to 97 spaces. If we add in the 30 person Transitional Tiny Home Community, that takes us to 127 spaces. There is still more work for the Province to do to identify the additional 75 – 100 spaces needed. Every time I speak with Housing Minister Eby I am confident that this work is underway and that we will meet the goal of ensuring that everyone currently living in a park is offered an indoor space by March 31st at which point 24/7 camping will come to an end. We hear you.
I know there are concerns from those who live near 940 Caledonia about the proposed Transitional Tiny Home Community. In the coming weeks we will share more details including information about the kind of housing that will be provided there, the programming, and the operator. There will also be a formal opportunity for the public to weigh in on the project at a Thursday evening Council meeting. And, as soon as the operator is announced, the City will hold regular meetings with the operator and neighbours just like we’ve been doing at the City-owned former Boys and Girls Club on Yates St. since 2016 when 48 people moved in there. When this site was proposed as a shelter, there was significant neighbourhood concern and opposition. The City, the operator, BC Housing and the neighbourhood have worked together well over the past five years to integrate My Place into the neighbourhood.
Thanks also for your suggestions and ideas. Someone sent this very interesting article about how Singapore creates enough housing for everyone in the country. Someone else shared this article on supported housing in the UK and asked what kind of models we are proposing here. There is a range of housing available in Greater Victoria from rental supplements in the private market with a support worker or peer support worker visiting on a regular basis, to the other end of the continuum which is supportive housing with 24/7 around the clock staffing and supports available.
The motels that the Province bought and leased have these 24/7 wrap around supports. But there is a difference between retrofitting a motel and purpose built supportive housing where the buildings can be designed to offer the kinds of supports needed. This is the longer-term work that is needed beyond March 31st. There is also need for complex care housing, which I discuss below.
A National Crisis Some of you write on a regular basis, my harshest critics, blaming myself and Council for creating the homelessness situation here and for allowing 24/7 camping.
In most major cities in Canada right now there are 24/7 encampments. Here’s a December 6th 2020 story about a 40 person encampment in Montreal. It reads in part, “While tent cities like this are new to Montreal, shelter workers and experts say it’s not necessarily a sign that significantly more people in Montreal are homeless. But they all agree that the pandemic has made homelessness more visible and disrupted the way people access both formal and informal services.”
In Hamilton in October, two large tent encampments were dismantled only after everyone was offered indoor sheltering opportunities: “The city said in a release it has focused on helping encampment residents with moving into emergency housing options over the past week.”
From London, Ontario, (my hometown), London Quietly Lifts Ban on Encampments during the Pandemic. The article notes similar logic as we’ve relied on in Victoria: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve all been asked to stay home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But for the hundreds of people who live on London’s streets, that’s not even a possibility. It’s one of the reasons why the City of London quietly lifted a ban on homeless encampments since the pandemic began in March.”
And from Toronto, Canada’s largest city, No Plans to Dismantle Encampments as Advocates Call for Increased Support for Homeless: “’No encampment clearings are scheduled. We continue to offer people, on an individual basis, safe indoor space.’ The city has said previously that it will only clear encampments once everyone at that location has been offered safe indoor space and that a notice would then be issued to give people time to collect their belongings.”
Victoria’s situation is not unique. Our policy of not displacing people from encampments but rather working to identify needs and move people inside reflects the same practices as other city councils across the country.
Complex Care Housing Some of you have shared experiences of feeling unsafe when encountering unpredictable behaviours as you’re going about your daily life. We know there are people living in Victoria and in communities across British Columbia who have complex needs that aren’t been met by the existing housing available.
That why this week the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus which I co-chair with Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran met with both Ministers Eby (Housing) and Malcolmson (Mental Health and Addictions) to express our support for them to take action on complex care housing. Here is the statement we released on Friday and here is the Times Colonist coverage of the meeting. This statement addresses some of the concerns that you have shared with me this week and in past weeks.
Statement from B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus on Meetings with the Provincial Government to Develop a Complex Care Housing Pilot
Date: Friday, January 29, 2021 For Immediate Release
VICTORIA, BC – Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, co-chairs of the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus released the following statement following meetings this week with Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson to discuss strengthening mental health and substance use supports in the face of the ongoing homelessness and opioid crises.
“On behalf of the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus, we would like to thank the Ministers for meeting this week to begin to plan how we can work together to accelerate B.C.’s response to addressing the mental health, substance use and homelessness crises. It’s great to see the priorities laid out in our Blueprint for British Columbia’s Urban Future reflected in the Ministers’ mandate letters.
“We are seeing historic investments from the Province to build more affordable housing, which is serving the needs of many people in our communities. Yet even with this unprecedented effort, people with complex needs are falling through the cracks and aren’t being served by the supportive housing models and programs currently available.
“That’s why the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus wants to work with Ministers Eby, Malcolmson and the provincial government to develop a five-site pilot project for 40-50 unit Complex Care Housing sites within a year: one on the Island, one in the North, one in the Interior and two in the Lower Mainland.
“This five-site pilot project is the necessary first step in filling a gap in the continuum of housing and health care to meet the needs of vulnerable people who require mental health and substance use supports and services unique to their needs. Some of them may need extra supports on a pathway to recovery. Some of them may need to be in this kind of care longer term. This pilot project is an opportunity to learn on a small-scale, five-site basis and then – building on the learnings – to create additional sites in communities across the province.
“The challenges we are seeing in our communities are expanding faster than the solutions. Our vulnerable residents are at risk without proper health supports to meet their complex needs. Our residents and business owners are frustrated. And economic recovery from the pandemic will be compromised without action now. It’s time to try new approaches.
“As Mayors of B.C.’s largest urban centres, we look forward to working with the provincial government on this pilot and would like funding for it to be included in Budget 2021. We are here to help the Ministers and the Province make this pilot a success for all.”
Jann Arden’s Advice As always, I try to end with something to inspire us all. I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m feeling really tired. I went to bed at 9:30pm last night and set my alarm for 6:00am this morning as Sunday is my “catch up” day and there’s a lot of work to do. But I couldn’t pull myself out of bed until 8:00am. I’m tired of the pandemic and all the stress it’s putting on our community from our small businesses which are just holding on, to those who have lost their jobs, to those who are feeling isolated at home, to those who have no home to isolate in.
This is an excerpt from a post that singer Jann Arden shared on Facebook earlier on in the pandemic. It seems even more important now as we’re nearing the end. It is my Sunday offering to you all.
I suppose I could conjure up the voices of worry in my head. But I’m not going to. Worry is a liar. This little shard of history will fold over itself. It’s going to take some time. It will require patience and more than anything else, an enormous amount of kindness. Treat other people kindly. Take only what you need. Share what you have. Encourage others whenever you can. Be positive even when you’re not sure. Be determined. Be steadfast. Be careful. Smile when you pass a stranger on the street. We are not each other’s enemy, we are each other’s salvation. There is no life without a community of souls. We imperfect souls blazing through the universe in search of true love. A true love of ALL living things. Let us protect what we have left when this lifts. Let’s not go back. We have it in us to be so much more. BECOME THE PERSON YOU WERE MEANT TO BE.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. I want to make sure that you get a timely response to your email so I’m writing back to all of you at once. This also helps ensure that all the information I share here in response to various queries and comments is available as widely as possible. If you’d like to receive an email update every Sunday you can sign up here.
I can’t guarantee that I will directly address the precise concerns, questions or suggestions that each of you expressed in the 168 emails I received this week related to outdoor sheltering and homelessness. But I can promise that I’ve read each of your emails and will do my very best to address them. So that you don’t have to read this whole email (though I’d really love if you would!), I’ve divided it using headings. You can skip to the section you think best addresses your query or concern. I would lovingly request that you all take the time to read the first section, “Democracy at Work.” And, for those who are wondering how you can help, I’d also suggest the last section on the Transitional Tiny Home Community.
Democracy at Work One of the privileges of being the mayor is that I get a of a bird’s eye view of the community. And my email inbox this week is definitely part of that. I wish that all of you could see it. There are emails from those of you who think we are being way too harsh on people who are living without homes in our community. You’re calling on us to do more. And there are those of you who think we are way too easy on people who are homeless, that we should be much harsher, and that I only care about people who are homeless.
There are those of you who want us to leave the care tent that has been set up in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and who think that the City is acting too slowly. And there are those of you who are strongly opposed to a City-funded Community Care Tent being set up this weekend and early next week on Cook Street and think that the City is acting too quickly.
There are those of you who do not want any additional funding to go to VicPD to assist our bylaw officers in the parks. And there are those who want us to be stricter in enforcing the bylaws and wonder why we’re not doing more.
It’s a real honour to hear all of your perspectives. And that’s what they all are, they are perspectives. There is not one of you who is categorically “right”. And there is not one of you who is categorically “wrong.” The beauty of democracy is when we really listen to each other’s perspectives and try to find common ground.
What I understand from your emails – and what I see as common ground in all your perspectives – is that having people with nowhere to live but in parks, in the middle of a global health pandemic isn’t good for any of you. It’s not good for those of you who are living in parks. It’s not good for those of you who – like one person who wrote to me this week – are a paycheque awayfrom being homeless, struggling to feed their families, pay their bills, and keep themselves going, worried about living on their credit cards and when this is going to end. It’ s not good for those of you who live near or have a business near a park.
66 Days That’s why the City – in lock-step with Minster Eby, BC Housing and the provincial government – is working hard every day over the next 66 days, between now and March 31st, to ensure that everyone who is currently sheltering in a park will be offered a safe, secure indoor 24/7 sheltering opportunity with the supports they need. And then we will also end 24/7 camping in parks. If you’d like to learn more about how we plan to do this, you can scan my blog posts from August 30th. Or, if you’d like a more precise snap shot see my Sunday January 3 blog post and in particular the section “Indoor Shelteringand Approach to Consultation.”
Some of you wonder why this is taking so long and feel that March 31st is a long way away. Those of you living in a tent in the middle of the winter probably also feels this way. It’s taking long because each place to be opened requires some form of lease agreement or needs to be purchased. Each place to be opened requires a manager and trained staff. Each place to be opened requires health and in some cases mental health and substance use supports. In November, when Council set a deadline of March 31st to work with the Province to offer everyone an indoor space, all of this work began in earnest. Over the next 66 days, we will see this work start to come to fruition. To keep in touch as the work progresses, you can sign up here.
Community Care Tent I almost want to call this section “Community Care Tent Saga” as this is how it is starting to feel! In November, to fill social service gaps that were identified by those of you living outside and the front line workers serving you, Council created an emergency social services grant. One of the projects awarded in December was a Community Care Tent to be set up adjacent to Meegan/Beacon Hill Park to provide opportunities for people to warm up and receive emergency supports.
For a whole lot of reasons, the location for the Community Care Tent wasn’t finalized until this past Friday. For the next 66 days it will be located on Cook Street about 50m from Dallas Road so that humanitarian aid can be provided to people who are living in the park. There has been no consultation. It is cold out. People are living outside. People in the community want to help, to bring blankets and warm coats. The the tent has been set up temporarily to accommodate all of these needs. We will all need to do the best we can together over the next 66 days to make this emergency social service work.
Some of you have asked why this tent can’t be in the park, and/or why we can’t organize camping in the park at the gravel field in the southwest corner of the park. For those of you who have received these emails before, please feel free to skip the next paragraph!
Meegan/Beacon Hill Park is available – as are most other parks in the City per a 2009 Supreme Court decision securing the right to shelter – to members of the public who find themselves homeless to sleep in. Because of the Beacon Hill Trust, which dates back to the 1880s, the City cannot organize camping or social services in the park. That is why the Community Care Tent which is funded by the City is on Cook Street adjacent to the park. The City has to balance its responsibility as a Trustee of the park and do our part to ensure vulnerable residents can receive humanitarian aid in a global health pandemic.
Some of you have written today about the graffiti on the tent. The graffiti is unauthorized at this City-permitted and funded site and has now been covered up by the permit holders. Some of you have said that the graffiti and the whole issue of homelessness is dividing our community. Division is a choice. We have much more in common than that which separates us. To read more on this please head to my blog post from last Sunday and see the section, “Shared Suffering as Connection.”
The Community Caret tent will be run by the Red Cedar Cafe and will follow these guidelines:
Quiet Hours will be strictly enforced between 10:00 pm and 7:00 am
Two support workers will be on site at all times
During quiet hours, support services will be limited to: – Providing access to food or necessary survival supplies – Providing warm, safe temporary shelter for those who don’t have any camping gear or whose tents have been damaged, destroyed, collapsed, soaked or otherwise made unusable – Providing a safe space for people seeking distance from a partner or other person during conflict – Providing crisis response for people experiencing mental health crisis, employing de-escalation and conflict resolution skills, and facilitating connections to emergency mental health support services – Performing first aid and overdose response and connecting individuals with emergency services in the event of a medical emergency
During Daytime Hours (7:00 am – 10:00 pm) the Temporary Community Care Tent will provide the following additional support services: – Collecting donations from the public and distributing items such as tents, tarps, warm clothing and survival gear – Serving coffee, tea and food – Providing a space for people to warm up and dry off – Providing a connection to community through peer support, outreach and educational workshops
Covid-19 Public Health and Physical Distancing Guidelines will be enforced at all times
Failure to adhere strictly to these rules will result in the suspension of services at the Temporary Community Care Tent
If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please contact: Red Cedar Café, 778-817-0395 / email@example.com / www.redcedarcafe.ca
Policing and Parks A number of you have written this week with objections to a proposed one-time amount of $75, 960 to VicPD to continue the work they have been doing with Bylaw in the parks since September. Some of you who have written simply object to more funding for police under any circumstances. Others say that we shouldn’t give money to police people who are homeless. And still others say that the money could be better used to support people who are homeless.
I agree with you – and I think many at VicPD would as well – that their job isn’t to police homelessness. And I wholeheartedly agree that we need to ensure that funding is available to take care of people who are living without homes. Even though housing is clearly a provincial and federal responsibility (whereas policing is clearly a municipal responsibility with no one else to pick up the bill), the City has spent millions of dollars over the past few years, and thousands of staff hours, helping to secure housing for people who need it.
Council also has a responsibility to keep our staff safe. In most circumstances our bylaw staff are just fine doing their rounds without police. They have gotten to know many of the people who are living outside well and have – all things considered – a pretty good rapport. But sometimes, challenging situations can arise. And that’s when it’s necessary for bylaw to be accompanied by police.
This is a one-time funding request that expires on March 31st. This is when everyone currently living in parks will be offered an indoor space as a pathway to permanent housing. And over the next 66 days between the Province, the City and the community, while an additional $75,000 is spent on policing, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars will be spent on housing and sheltering solutions. I hope this perspective helps.
Transitional Tiny Home Community Anonymous Matching Donor As always, I try to end with a dose of inspiration and a sense of hope. As many of you know, Aryze Developments and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness have come together to raise money to create a tiny home community at 940 Caledonia Road.
Many people who wrote this week asked Council to support this temporary housing solution. Others who live very close by to the site have some concerns. Before any final decision is made, Council will hold an opportunity for public comment at a Thursday evening Council meeting. Although, the provincial housing minister said he was prepared to overrule Council if there were any delays in approving the project. So we’re working with BC Housing and an operator to be announced soon to make it awesome for tiny home residents and also for nearby neighbours. More on all that soon.
But in the meantime, there is still close to $200,000 that needs to be raised. This past week the Coalition and Aryze received some very heart warming news. An anonymous donor has committed to matching every single dollar until the project reaches its $500,000 goal. Once again, I’m floored by the generosity in our community and how people are coming together to literally help build homes for their neighbours. If you have $10 to contribute, it now turns into $20. If you have $100, it turns into $200. Just like that! You can donate and learn more here. Please spread the word.
We’re almost through this. Sixty-six days until everyone outside in parks moves inside. The Province rolled out a vaccine plan on Friday with a realistic timeline for us all to get vaccinated. An end is in sight to the strict restrictions that are keeping us apart from friends and family. Some hope is on the horizon for those who have lost jobs and are facing economic hardship. A re-opening. We can get through these next few long and difficult months, together, all of us, as a community.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. Because we’re still receiving a high volume of emails about sheltering in parks, and so that you all get an answer from me in a timely way, I’m writing back to all of you together. I’ve been doing this every Sunday since August. If you’d like to receive an email to keep up to date as we work with the Province to offer 24/7 indoor sheltering and housing opportunities over the next 73 days, you can sign up here.
I use headings in the email, so that you can just skip to the part you’re interested in. I’ll begin with a housing and sheltering update, then talk about the Community Care Tent and Transitional Tiny Home Community, which many of you have written about this week. Then I’ll share a few of my own musings and some inspiration from Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen on how we might understand suffering – our own and that of others – as a way to connect and heal.
This will be a shorter email than usual (I hear some of you breathing a sigh of relief!) because I need to spend most of the weekend reviewing the feedback we received from Victorians on the City’s 2021 budget. We begin decision making on the budget Monday morning.
73 Days – Sheltering and Housing Update This week I felt more optimistic than ever about our work with the Province to offer everyone currently sheltering in parks a 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunity and ending 24/7 camping in parks as of March 31st. That’s 73 days from today.
My optimism comes from these media stories featuring our smart and passionate Housing Minister David Eby. He believes it’s possible to meet the March 31st goal. He says municipalities around the region also need to be part of the solution. And he notes that he’s prepared to use the Province’s land use paramountcy powers if necessary. Please take the time to watch and read. There’s a lot of detail about number of units needed, etc.
On Friday at the weekly Community Wellness Alliance Decampment Working Group meeting, I found still more cause for optimism. The December numbers show that 81 people moved through the housing continuum, including 42 people who were chronically homeless moving inside. The others who moved, moved from supportive housing into market units, or treatment, or new CRD housing, making room for the 42 to move in from outside.
This “positive flow” process that we’ve been working to set up since August seems to be working. The on-the-ground folks in Victoria from BC Housing assured me on Friday that all the processes are in place to continue this positive flow over the next 73 days to help make room for people to move inside from parks by the end of March.
Community Care Tentand Transitional Tiny Home Community This week many of you wrote supporting the Community Care Tent and the Transitional Tiny Home Community. You asked us to move quickly noting the suffering of people living outside. We also received many emails with concerns about the proposed Community Care Tent being installed on Avalon Street at Douglas. Council also had concerns about that location. At our meeting Thursday, in a 8-1 vote, we approved a grant of $6500 to the Red Cedar Cafe to run the tent, and directed staff to find a different location.
As I explained in my blog post last week, neither the City nor any organization can provide services in the park. Please head here to read more. The locations that staff will choose from are a provincially owned piece of land just north of Southgate Street, or a portion of the curbside along Cook Street between the parks yard and Dallas Rd. The most expedient location is the Cook Street one – because it is owned by the City – and this is likely where the care tent will go.
There has been no consultation. A cold snap is coming next week. And we’ve already had extraordinary rain fall this winter. Some volunteers with the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association Support Group for the Unhoused are supportive of the idea and have been working to help. But the Association itself has not taken a position. Councillor Andrew held an informal “town hall” last week at which a number of community members attended and shared their thoughts.
It is imperative that the Community Care Tent get up and running as soon as possible. The tent will be there until March 31st. There will be COVID-19 safety protocols in place, hours of operation and operating guidelines. It is called a Community Care Tent because volunteers in the community are coming together to help their unhoused neighbours. They need a location for donations and supplies to be dropped and for people to come and warm up.
This week Council, by unanimous vote, took the next step towards the creation of a Transitional Tiny Home Community proposed for 940 Caledonia Street. Aryze Developments, working with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, has crowd sourced $300,000 of the $500,000 needed to build 30 tiny homes. Council’s motion on Thursday gave permission for Aryze to apply for a Temporary Use Permit for 30 homes from March 31 2021 to September 30 2022.
Once city staff receive the application they will bring it to Council. Once Council has reviewed it we will invite the public to comment on it at a regular Thursday evening Council meeting before making a final decision. You can read the full Council report here. I feel proud of Council for taking this next step unanimously, even though there are lots of questions that still need answers over the next 73 days. And I feel so inspired that the community is pitching in to donate and build homes for their neighbours.
Shared Suffering As Connection One of my new year’s resolutions is to make my work as mayor part of my spiritual practice. I’m reading a wonderful book called, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Healby Rachel Naomi Remen, a medical doctor who works with cancer patients. I’m currently in a section of the book called, “Opening the Heart,” where she talks about shared suffering as a way to feel connected with each other.
On Saturday evenings as I read through all your emails to prepare this Sunday email, I feel deeply the separation of neighbours from each other, housed and unhoused. I’ve been asking myself why some people fear/dislike/express prejudice against people who are living without homes in our community. I think the root of it – subconsciously – is that to see our fellow humans so exposed, vulnerable, precarious, is really painful. And, also some of the actions resulting from this precarity impact some of you who live near parks where people are sheltering. So we build walls between us and them and close our hearts.
For those of you who are living without homes in city parks, this cutting off and disconnection is doubly painful. You are exposed, vulnerable, precarious. And then there is this additional feeling and experience of separation between you and many of your housed neighbours.
Rachel Naomi Remen offers us a path forward, an opportunity to heal:
“More and more, we seem to have become numb to the suffering of others and ashamed of our own suffering. Yet suffering is one the the universal conditions of being alive. We all suffer. We have become terribly vulnerable, not because we suffer, but because we have separated ourselves from each other …
“Perhaps the healing of the world rests on just this sort of shift in our way of seeing, a coming to know that in our suffering and our joy we are connected to one another with unbreakable and compelling human bonds. In that knowing, all of us become less vulnerable and alone.”
The root of the issue facing our community right now isn’t only that people are living in parks. It is a sense of disconnection, vulnerability, alone-ness. This makes sense given that we are 313 days into a global health pandemic where we’ve all been told to isolateas much as possible. My hope for all of us is that we can shift our way of seeing even just a little bit, and recognize that we are all – fundamentally – connected.
Thanks for taking the time to write to me this past week. In order to answer all your emails in a timely way and to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible, I write back to everyone all at once every Sunday. I’ll address your specific concerns as best I can and you’ll also learn about some of the concerns that others have and what we’re doing in response.
Many of you have asked some really good questions that I’ve answered in previous Sunday emails; these emails are all on my blog. What would be great if I don’t answer your exact question here – though I’ll do my best! – is to head to my blog and search for topic you’re looking for. You can do this by using the Command and “F” key at the same time and then searching for the word or words you’re looking for information on.
I’ve been writing every Sunday since August on the topic of housing, sheltering, parks and solutions so there’s lots of information available. If you’d like to receive weekly emails from me to keep you to date, you can also sign up here.
This email is organized by heading so you can just skip to the section where I address what you’ve written to me about if you don’t want to read the whole thing. I’ll start with the next 80 days and the plan to end parks sheltering by March 31 2021. Then I’ll talk about the Community Care Tent in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park. Next I’ll respond to concerns about parks sheltering more generally. Then I’ll share and respond to some of the suggestions you’ve made. Finally, as always at the end, I’ll share what I hope is a dose of humanity and inspiration. That’s always my favourite part so I hope you can skip to that if you can’t read the whole thing.
80 Days – There is A Plan Council has set a goal of working with the Province to offer everyone currently living in City parks a 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunity by March 31st. That is 80 days from today. When that happens, we will change the parks bylaw back to allow camping only from 7pm-7am as per a 2009 Supreme Court decision that secured the right to overnight shelter for people without homes.
On Friday morning, BC’s terrific new Housing Minister David Eby was interviewed by Gregor Craigie on CBC. He expressed his support for Victoria Council’s goal, said he thought March 31st was doable, and noted that we are all working together to make this happen. Please take the time to listen to his interview here.
We are still in a global health pandemic and in a provincially declared State of Emergency. We need to move quickly over the next 80 days to meet the goal, because people have been living outside for far too long already. Because we are in a State of Emergency and need to move quickly, some of the solutions will likely not have much public consultation, though we will do our best to keep the public informed.
As Minister Eby noted on CBC, there are currently approximately 191 structures in city parks. Some of them have more than one person living in them. This means that we need to create indoor sheltering solutions – and not just a mat on a floor – for over 200 people in the next 80 days. These spaces will come through rent supplements, tiny homes, new 24/7 indoor transitional sheltering opportunities, motel rooms, and a new Regional Housing First building that is opening in Langford in March.
There have been a couple of emails from nearby residents of the proposed Transitional Tiny Home Community concerned about this project. You can read the full report to Council here. I can assure residents that a wide search of publicly and privately owned properties around the city and the region was undertaken, including the land the City owns at 930 Pandora. That property will go through planning and then demolition as soon as possible and before September 2022 and is not a suitable location for the Transitional Tiny Home Community. The Transitional Tiny Home Community will be run by an experienced operator. There will be a formal opportunity for public comment at a Council meeting about the Transitional Tiny Home Community before Council would authorize a Temporary Use Permit.
To those of you who are still living outside in the middle of a global health pandemic, I hear your stories and I see your needs. We’re going to continue to do the very best we can to support the Province to create indoor spaces for you, spaces that are the transition to homes and the supports you’ve said you need. BC Housing will be prioritizing people who have filled out a BC Housing application. If you haven’t filled one out, flag down an outreach worker and ask for help. If you have someone to help you fill out a form they can find it here.
Community Care Tent This past week we’ve received a flood of emails from people who live on or near Avalon Street concerned about the proposal to install a Community Care Tent at Avalon and Douglas Street for the next 80 days. Thanks for writing and sharing your concerns. Some of you have asked why we can’t set up the tent on the gravel field in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park.
The Beacon Hill Trust dating back to 1882 governs the use of the park. People who are living without homes are also members of the public and can use Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and other city parks for sheltering as per the 2009 Supreme Court decision. However, the City – or anyone else – can’t organize encampments or services in the park as this would be seen to violate the Trust. Believe me, I’m as exasperated by this as all of you are, as the gravel field does seem like the easiest solution. But as our City Solicitor said to me when I came to him with my exasperation, we are the government; we cannot knowingly violate a law.
I’m glad I got your emails because when we discuss this at Council next week I can ask the questions that you’ve asked about access, parking, other routes for residents, safety of people crossing Douglas, hours of operation, COVID safety plans for the tent and so on. I think all of these questions are really good and need answers.
What I find harder to take are the emails telling me how ashamed of myself I should be for considering putting the Community Care Tent on Avalon Street. We are in a State of Emergency. There are seniors like Al (see his video below), living outside in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park. Yes there has been inadequate consultation. No Avalon Street is not the perfect location for a Community Care Tent. But surely we can all find it somewhere inside ourselves to hold it together for the next 80 days in a really rainy Victoria winter to accept a space where people can come in out of the rain to dry off and warm up.
Parks Sheltering and Other Concerns We have received a number of emails this week about Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and bylaw non-compliance. Our hardworking bylaw staff have been focused over the past weeks on Central Park, first to work to achieve compliance with the new bylaws that are meant to limit the number of people camping in each park, and more recently helping people to relocate in the wake of the flood.
Bylaw staff will be attending in all city parks this week and beyond working with people to come into compliance with the bylaws. They will also be helping to ensure that people have housing applications filled out so BC Housing can understand their needs and what kind of indoor shelter would be suitable.
Central Park has been closed entirely for remediation. Staff have been in contact with the North Park Neighbourhood Association to get their input into the remediation plans. Council will need to consider whether Central Park is an appropriate location for sheltering at all given the flooding potential; we will need to make this decision very soon given the number of rainy winter months still ahead.
Some of you have expressed concern that as part of Central Park remediation the City might somehow sneak back in plans for Crystal Pool at that location. I can say firmly that the redevelopment of Crystal Pool has been put on a back burner at this point and it is not in Council’s 2021 work plan. The City took advantage of the closure of recreation centres earlier in the pandemic and has done some much-needed repairs to the existing facility. It will re-open soon.
I’ve also heard concerns from people who use the tennis court at Oaklands Park and the playground in Vic West park that there are people camped too close to these facilities. Bylaw staff are in regular contact with people sheltering working to find a way forward and achieve compliance.
What your emails reveal – and this has been a theme throughout the pandemic – is that parks are for recreation not for living in. People need housing so that they don’t have to live in parks, so that parks can be used for recreation. It sounds so logical and simple really, but I can assure you from work on this issue daily, that it’s not an easy one to resolve.
I’ve received a few emails this week from people who earn a good living, work hard, and still can’t afford to rent or buy a home in Victoria. This is a real concern for myself and Council. That’s why in addition to all the work we’ve been doing to help end parks sheltering, our staff have been working hard to implement the Victoria Housing Strategy .
Recently we have undertaken the following initiatives:
Something I’m really excited about for 2021 is the Missing Middle housing work we are doing. A few of you inquired about that this week. Missing Middle housing is the gap between apartments or condos and single family homes. As we all know, Victoria is growing. Housing in our community must meet the needs of everyone including young people who want to work here, families who want to stay, and grandparents who want to be close to grandkids. We know from census data that Victoria continues to lose people as they enter their 30s, likely as a result of the lack of housing options that fit their incomes and ability to grow as a family.
Taking bold steps towards Missing Middle Housing means we’ll have more townhouses, row houses, houseplexes and other forms of what are called “ground oriented units” – homes where people can access the street directly from their front door – in our single family neighbourhoods. A Times Colonist article last week, Greater Victoria’s real estate inventory hits 25-year low, pushing prices up lays out the dire situation really clearly. If we want to make Victoria a place where families can afford to live and to grow, we need to support and incentivize the building of many more family homes in the tiny 20 square kilometre piece of land that the city occupies.
Your Suggestions Many this week have suggested organized camping in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park on the gravel lot, or opening the Cameron Bandshell. As noted above, the Beacon Hill Trust prohibits any form of organized activity in the park. This has been challenged and upheld in court. The City is currently back in court with the Friends of Beacon Hill Park who are suing the City to prevent camping of any sort in the park. As a Trustee, the City needs to adhere to the terms of the Trust.
Someone sent me this creative idea, which I’ll share here. We are undertaking something similar as part of the Victoria Housing Strategy and also part of the Victoria Climate Leadership Plan:
“I would also like to suggest some thinking outside of the box – I am involved with a neighbourhood climate action group. What if the City of Victoria’s Green Business department (https://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/business/sustainability-programs-for-businesses.html) liaised with big landlords and created custom energy saving plans for them and their buildings that would result in savings that could be used to allow them to offer reduced cost suites in their buildings so that people’s rental supplements/social assistance would be sufficient to afford them.”
Someone else wrote:
“I would like to see the city and province ask the federal government for a tract of land in Saanich and on that land the construction of 250 small one room cottages of simple design sloped roof, inside a small fridge freezer, a 2 burner induction range, a single sink on one wall a standing shower, a small vanity sink and toilet in a bathroom walled off in a corner, the heating/cooling should be done by means of geothermal heat exchange, all units can be heated/cooled by the same system running parallel say 4 separate systems only necessitating heat pumps smaller units in parallel for maximum efficiency, on demand water heaters, LED lighting, they should be Hardie plank exterior for esthetic appeal and maximum durability the colors switched up a bit as well as some units having transom windows others without windows should also be varied in type as well as exterior lighting fixtures will vary in design simple concrete pad, unit construction would be a cookie cutter design so production would be assembly line of sorts ,insulation should be of a closed cell type to simplify construction further as sewer, gas for on demand, water and heating is centralized cost should be low on a per unit basis.
“Housing of this type should be viewed not so much as permanent but a stepping stone toward integration into mainstream society and private housing. These types of homes should be allocated and prioritized toward those who are already within our community and where a cost/benefit structure resides.
“At the end of the day the only real possibility of closing the gap between homelessness and or poverty is thru reintegration not alienation.”
The model laid out here in terms of temporary transitional housing is exactly what is proposed for the Transitional Tiny Home Community that I shared above. It will be small scale – 30 people not 250 – and will be a place where people can come inside and get settled and have the supports they need to find their way towards more permanent housing, and, as the citizen who wrote so eloquently put it, “reintegration not alienation.”
Al’s Art and all the Others Out There A resident of Fairfield who lives adjacent to Meegan/Beacon Hill Park has gotten to know her un-housed neighbours. More than that, she’s been working with them on art and creative projects. She writes,
“I’ve collaborated with the Beacon Hill Park unhoused community to create MECA: Meegan Everyday Creativity Arts project. The individuals in Meegan need an opportunity to express and create. They are so excited for this project, and speak enthusiastically about it … Creative activity is a big part of how they process their big and small traumas.”
Here’s a video of Al showing her his very creative art work:
To Al and all of the others out there, I am humbled by your resilience. I want you to know that we’re working hard so that you won’t have to spend another winter in a tent, so that you’ll have the same safe, secure housing that myself and so many of the people who write to me every week enjoy. You are part of our community.
With humility and gratitude,
Lisa / Mayor Helps
P.S. Just before I was about to hit send on this email, someone sent me an email with a link to this young man, apparently currently living in a vehicle in Victoria, singing. In light of the resident’s comment above about the creativity of people living outside, I thought I’d include it here. Beautiful.
Thanks for your emails over the past few weeks. As those of you who are regular correspondents will know, I took a couple weeks break from writing Sunday emails. For those of you who are receiving a Sunday email for the first time, it’s because you’ve written in the past couple of weeks with questions, concerns, or ideas about outdoor sheltering, housing, or those without homes in our community.
In order to be efficient and also to ensure that everyone has as much information as possible, I answer all your emails here. I also post this email on my blog and have been doing so weekly since late August. If you want to stay in touch to learn about the work that the Province, federal government, City and community are doing to create indoor sheltering opportunities, you can follow my blog here. If you’d like to catch up on all the information you may have missed during the fall, you can start here in August and read to here in December. Do make a cup of tea as it’s a lot of reading!
In order to make it easy to read these lengthy emails, I use headings so you can skip to what you’re interested in. Today I’ll begin with a pressing issue which many of you wrote about – the flood response in Central Park. Then I’ll give a general update on indoor sheltering and approach to consultation over the next few months. Next I’ll address your questions, concerns and suggestions. Finally, in a section called “Christmas Oranges,” I outline acts of extreme generosity and kindness I witnessed over the holiday season. If you’ve got the time I encourage you to read the whole email.
Flood response in Central Park On the morning of December 23rd, the people living in Central Park awoke to their tents and belongings under water. Many of you wrote concerned about their fate. In some of those emails you called on the Province to reopen the Save on Foods Memorial Arena as a shelter and to take other immediate actions. I want to assure you that our colleagues at BC Housing haven’t stopped working on options over the holidays.
A group of faith leaders from a range of faiths got together and emailed this letter to City Council and provincial officials:
Dear Elected Leadership – in this Season of HOPE,
We are writing to you as a broad based diverse coalition of South Island clergy who represent thousands of concerned congregants.
We first want to acknowledge, in gratitude, how much work and energy that British Columbia Housing, and you, our local leadership are doing throughout this pandemic to secure shelter options for the unhoused in our community. The size and scope of the challenge feels daunting at present and we are thankful that our current Provincial government and Victoria’s local mayor and council are strong advocates for our unhoused siblings.
We also acknowledge that what is being accomplished at present is simply not enough.
Shelter needs to be recognized as a basic human right. Housing is a prime determinant of health and now in the midst of a pandemic and extreme weather conditions we are in a crisis. Those who try to serve the homeless are exhausted dealing with battered tents, floods, snow and ice.
On behalf of our congregations of Victoria, who are waking up to this crisis and wake up at night during these extreme weather conditions, and care about those who have no homes to “isolate” from Covid-19, this winter, we ask you to please do whatever is possible to provide immediate indoor shelter for those who need and want to relocate from the parks.
We fully recognize that in the midst of this emergency there is no time to worry about nimbyism. We understand that the limited solutions that we currently hold have costs and discomforts. We recognize that temporary indoor housing is not a long term solution to end homelessness.
We ask that you make bold and immediate decisions to literally get our homeless siblings out of the mud. We must do this before we are all held accountable for a death that occurs through exposure.
Those currently suffering cannot afford to wait. Please let us know how our congregations can be a part of the solution. Shelter is essential to human life and dignity for the vulnerable who are parts of the sacred fabric of our community.
Let us act swiftly, In peace,
Faith Leaders of Victoria BC
Many people leapt into action to help after the flood, from City staff, BC Housing, the North Park Neighbourhood Association (more on this below), the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Emergency Weather Protocol and others. Within a few days, people were relocated to a drier area a block away at the Royal Athletic Park (RAP) parking lot. While this is better than living in a flooded park, it is not good enough in a country as prosperous as Canada in the middle of a global health pandemic. Hence the hard work needed in the next 90 days to move people indoors (more on this below).
And it’s not only BC Housing, Island Health, housing and social service providers and city officials who are going to need to work hard. It is all of us. To the faith leaders, and all the others who wrote demanding action – thank you for your care, concern and commitment. You can help by:
Continuing to speak of our “unhoused siblings” reminding everyone that people living without homes are our fellow humans, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters
Offering up church parking lots or other church properties for Conestoga Huts (more on this below)
Sponsoring someone to move into a market rental unit by helping to close the gap between a rent supplement ($825 per month) and market rent for a bachelor or one-bedroom
Indoor Shelteringand Approach to Consultation As hopefully everyone is aware, City Council passed a motion in November that set a date of March 31st 2021 to end 24/7 camping in parks. Since we are still in the middle of a global health pandemic and a Provincial State of Emergency where “stay at home” has been key medical advice, Council’s willingness to end 24/7 camping is contingent on everyone currently living outdoors in a park being offered a 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunity.
With the deadline of March 31st set, BC Housing and Island Health are providing a monthly update on the number of people who move indoors. The first report was December 15th for the month of November when 37 people living outside or on the brink of doing so were moved indoors with the supports and care that they needed. This is a good start.
Over the next three months, working together, we need to secure close to 200 spots for everyone still out there as the rain falls and the wind blows. Not all of these 200 spaces will be permanent housing right away. We’ll need to rely on a combination of:
Market rental units – 80-ish rent supplements available for those currently living in supportive housing who are ready to move into the private market, freeing up their units for people who need supports as they move indoors
Motel rooms – Capital City Centre will be repaired from the fire as of mid-January with approximately 30 spaces available
The Save on Foods Memorial Arena – the Province is in negotiations with GSL properties (which operates the arena) as well as with a potential shelter operator to open 48 shelter spaces
Other temporary indoor sheltering locations being explored to make up the rest
That’s a potential total of 218 spaces. Few of these are secured at this time. It’s going to take an enormous effort in the next 90 days to create them.
It’s also going to mean that in terms of consultation with the community we’ll be on the “inform” end of the International Association for Public Participation spectrum. This means we’ll be sharing information with the public as sheltering opportunities become available rather than consulting in advance. I know this is difficult for some people to hear. But for the past 10 months we’ve received thousands of emails asking us to get people out of parks; there is clearly a community consensus that living inside is better for everyone than having people living in parks.
Your questions, concerns and suggestions I wish that you could all see my email inbox! There’s such a mix of messages in it. Some of you write on a regular basis with photos of people’s shelters asking bylaw to attend and enforce. Bylaw staff are doing their best to attend as many parks as possible on a regular basis. One person even sent photos of someone nodding off at a table at Tim Horton’s, coffee cup in hand, and asked me why that person wasn’t removed. I know how I would feel having my picture snapped by strangers on a regular basis.
Many people have also made suggestions about indoor sheltering locations – Ogden Point, Crystal Pool, the Armouries, the Old Canadian Tire on Douglas Street, Oak Bay Lodge. All of these have been explored and deemed unsuitable or unavailable for various reasons.
There are those of you who express a great deal of compassion for people who are struggling and also outline your own challenges with increased break ins and need for more policing. I will support the police budget this year as I have every year, and agree the police need additional resources; our officers are doing their very best in really difficult circumstances. I’m also very supportive of an alternative response that’s being co-created by the City and an alliance with the community through the City’s Community Wellness Task Force along with Island Health and VicPD, where a civilian-led team will respond for mental health-related calls so police don’t need to attend.
Some of you sent a link to a documentary about homelessness in Seattle requesting that I watch it. I watched parts of it. My feeling is that like so much of what’s online these days, it was provocative, polarizing and seemed to sow divisions – more “us and them” – rather than bringing people together and exploring the complexity of homelessness, drug addiction, crime, and inequality in the context of a global health pandemic.
For those of you who sent the documentary to me, worried about Victoria’s soul and the state of the city, please take the time to read this recent Monocole article where in November 2020, Victoria was named one of the top five small cities in the world to live. And, of course no city is ever perfect and we’re all working hard to address the challenges facing us.
Others of you in Fairfield are working to support people living Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and want the City to do more and act more quickly to assist in getting the Community Care Tent up and running. Staff have been working with the community on this since Council approved the grant for the care tent. Hopefully something will be up and running soon. I thank those of you who are part of the Fairfield Gonzales Community Association Support Group for the Unhoused for your hard work and your kindness.
Some of you have asked why we don’t move everyone in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park to the gravel area in the southwest corner. As I’ve noted in previous posts, the Beacon Hill Trust – which the City is currently being taken to court over by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park who want to stop all camping in the park – prevents organized activities in the park. The City organizing a campsite in the park does not fit with the terms of the Trust.
Some of you have pointed to the few people with Alberta licence plates staying in Meegan/Beacon Hill Park and asked what we will do about these “Snowbird Campers”. While we can’t inhibit people’s charter right to freedom of movement, BC Housing is prioritizing people for housing who are most vulnerable and who have been homeless for a significant time. This criteria will tend to focus on people who are from here and who are known to BC Housing and service providers.
Finally, a number of you have sent this link to Conestoga Huts and suggested that we pursue this solution.
The website that some of you sent says that, “Conestoga Huts are not designed to keep people as warm as one would experience in a conventional style dwelling, though they are warmer and more substantial than sleeping in a recreational tent or unprotected in the elements.”
The City, Province and BC Housing need to stay laser focused for the next 90 and beyond to create indoor sheltering solutions that will lead to safe, secure, affordable housing with supports, as needed. We can’t put our energy into creating or siting these huts at this time. However, as noted above, there may be opportunities for the faith community and others in the community to create these low-cost interim solutions on private property. If you’re interested in helping please email me firstname.lastname@example.org with “Conestoga Huts” in the subject line and I will connect you with a group that is forming to work on this.
Christmas Orangesand Other Acts of Generosity As those of you who receive my emails on a regular basis know, I go for long runs on Sunday mornings. It helps me to think, clear my head, and see the city. The Sunday before Christmas on my run through Beacon Hill Park, I saw a Fairfield couple walking through the park with a box of Christmas oranges. They were calling to people in tents, who emerged, wary. And as they did, the couple tossed Christmas oranges their way with smiles and kind words.
I slowed as I noticed this, tears in my eyes as I thanked the couple. After everything. Here were these two lovely people out for their regular Sunday morning stroll, extending such a simple kindness to their unhoused neighbours.
And this isn’t all. When the flood hit in Central Park, the North Park Neighbourhood Association and dozens of North Park residents stepped up to help. They spent hundreds of hours over their holidays building platforms for tents, procuring tents, sleeping bags and other necessities. One nearby resident even set up a laundry sign-up sheet for people in the RAP parking lot with slots every two hours and planned to spend her holiday doing people’s laundry.
While some people may be worried about Victoria’s “soul” or the direction the city is going, I’m not. And it’s not because I have my head in the sand – my eyes are wide open to all the challenges that we’re facing. But what I know for sure is that Victoria has the grace, determination and the open-hearted approach that a community needs to tackle these challenges head on.