Update on Action, Sheltering in Parks, Kids at Play, Mental Health and Addictions, Victoria is not alone – Mayor’s “SUnday” Email – September 21 2020

This video was shown last week at the Coalition to End Homelessness Annual General Meeting. To learn more about Face to Face with Stigma or to request a workshop, you can find them here.

Good afternoon everyone,

Thanks to those of you who have written to share your concerns in the past week and few weeks. I have been writing back to everyone all at once because of the large number of emails I’ve been receiving, but also so I can share some of your points of view and good ideas with each other.

To those of you who have been receiving these Sunday emails on a regular basis for the past few weeks, I’ve been writing you each week to keep you updated. However, I don’t want to assume that you want to keep hearing from me! 😊 So, I’m going to request that if you do want me to continue to write to you, please follow my blog. That way you will get the email automatically when I post it there, but I won’t be flooding your inbox for the next few weeks and months, unless you ask me to.

Also, I’m sorry for not writing to you yesterday as usual; there was a bit of a glitch in compiling all your addresses.

To those of you who have written to me for the first time this past week, thank you. I know this is a really difficult time for our community and it’s good for me to hear directly from you about some of the challenges you’re facing in your own lives and the impacts that homelessness, mental health and addictions are having on all of us. 

My emails to you are meant to be honest, open and heartfelt so I hope they will be received in that spirit. For the past few weeks I’ve been starting by sharing some of what I’ve heard from you in your emails and then sharing some of the challenges we’re facing as a city government, and some of the solutions we’re working on. I thought this week I’d start with solutions and then share some of what I’ve heard from all of you, and answer your questions as best as possible.

Community Wellness Alliance and Coordinated Assessment and Access
As I’ve said in the past three Sunday emails, I co-chair a Community Wellness Alliance (CWA) with Island Health. We’ve formed a Decampment Working Group that meets weekly to move people from outside to inside. Over the next four months there are a substantial number of indoor spaces that will be available, not enough to take care of everyone living outside at this point, but a significant number.

Here’s an update from this past week. (I’ll then share more the CWA and the CAA below for those of you receiving an email from me for the first time.):

  • Since September 4th, 10 people living in encampments have moved inside, including one this past week.
  • As of Friday, 150 people of the approximately 250 people currently living outside have filled in BC Housing applications. Outreach teams will make a concerted effort in the next two weeks to work to have the additional 100 people also fill out housing applications. This is the pathway into housing, motel rooms, indoor sheltering spaces. 
  • As of Friday, 30 people currently living in supportive housing units have filled out applications for a rent supplement for placement in a private market rental unit and 24 people living in supportive housing have filled out an application to live in a Regional Housing First Unit (more below). This means that once these people move (sometime in the coming two months or so), there will be 54 spaces vacated in supportive housing, shelters or motels for people currently living outside to move into. This is called “positive flow.”
  • This Wednesday the Coordinated Assessment and Access Advisory Group will decide whether to prioritize people for housing who have been living in the region for a year or more.

There are 60 units opening in November in Langford and View Royal as part of the Regional Housing First Program (RHFP.) These units rent at $375 per month. There are also 24 units for treatment available at Our Place’s Therapeutic Recovery Community (TRC) in View Royal. These are for men who are ready to access treatment. It is their home and community for up to two years. For the past two weeks TRC outreach staff have been sharing information about their program at some of the encampments. Over the next couple of weeks they will focus their outreach efforts at motel sites, as we know that once people move inside they are more stabilized and more likely to be ready to move into a long-term treatment program. This will then also free up spaces for people living outside to move directly into motels. 

In addition to those 84 spaces (60 at RHFP buildings and 24 at TRC), BC Housing and Island Health are providing some “rent supplements”. This is a top-up provided to the income assistance rate which makes it possible for people to move from supportive housing into market rental units. And then, as with the Regional Housing First units, people can move from parks into the supportive housing units that are vacated. Combined BC Housing and Island Health have provided 110 rent supplements. The rely on private sector landlords renting to people moving out of supportive housing. BC Housing and Island Health are working on a coordinated approach to landlords to secure these units.

This whole “positive flow” process – from supportive housing to RHFP or market unit and then from parks to supportive housing – is coordinated by the BC Housing, Island Health and the CRD. As vacancies become available, the CAA placement table meets and decides who is moving where based on the needs that they have identified in their housing application. 

This is a lot of detail – even more than I provided last week. I don’t know if it helps but many of you have written to me asking us to do something! And I wanted to share with you what we are doing.

Your Suggestions, Questions and Comments
Now to your suggestions, questions and comments. Thank you for these. Many of you have suggested moving people out of the city to other areas of the region with the supports they need to live successfully. One very smart 13 year old who wrote to me suggested that the Red Cross be engaged to help with this. The Red Cross is engaged in providing resources to support the people living in Central Park.

The idea of moving people out of the city with the supports they need is a good one, and some of the people living in the parks have suggested this themselves. But the reality is the City of Victoria does not have this power or ability. There are lots of good areas in the region for setting up work-camp like settings with appropriate supports. As I often say, the city of Victoria proper is a tiny 20sq k/m handkerchief, and right now we are seeing a concentration of people living here with mental health and addictions challenges, as well as just simply being homeless, because there is nowhere else for them to go.

We tried really hard to secure Oak Bay Lodge for seniors experiencing homeless so that seniors currently living in shelters could move to Oak Bay Lodge and others could move inside from the parks, but the CRD Board voted to keep it vacant.

Many of you have also commented that it’s not only housing that people need, but also treatment and you’ve asked the city to provide better treatment options. The City isn’t responsible for health care. But I wholeheartedly agree about the need for more treatment. A provincial election has just been called and myself and mayors from across the province will be working hard to raise this issue with all parties.

Some of you have written and said that the city you used to love is no longer the same city because of all the people with mental health and addictions so visible on our streets. Talking with my colleagues from other urban centres across the province from the north, to the interior, to here on the coast, we are all facing the same thing: unprecedented numbers of people on our streets who should be receiving proper health care to meet their needs. It is a crisis and it’s getting worse not better. Victoria is not an exception. Victoria is not alone. Myself and my colleagues across the province will be actively organizing on this and other issues. I’ll keep you posted here as our election advocacy rolls out. We need immediate action in all of our communities.

Another issue that many of you have raised this past week is asking how could City Council care more about people sheltering in parks than kids needs to play in parks, and similar questions along these lines, like how could we give parks over to people who are homeless instead of keeping parks for tax paying citizens. I can’t speak for the rest of council but I can say that for me, people who are homeless are not more important than kids. And these are really difficult questions to answer. The simple answer, most honest answer is that the reason we are allowing people to be in parks is there is literally nowhere else for people to go. Removing them from parks doesn’t remove them from existence.

There is no good explanation for people having no choice but to live outside in as prosperous a city as Victoria, as prosperous a province as BC, and as prosperous a country as Canada. It is unconscionable. There are many factors that result in the current situation of people living in parks but I won’t go into them now or it might sound like I am lecturing or telling you things you already know about systemic inequality, precarity and vulnerability.

Where can your kids play? Many school properties have playgrounds that are open to the public after school hours and on weekends, so that is one option for people who don’t feel comfortable bringing their kids to play in parks where people are camping. A few of you have written and told me that you are still taking your kids to play in their regular parks and explaining to them while you’re there about the challenges their unhoused neighbours are facing. These are not easy conversations to have and I thank you for having them.

Some of you have asked why people aren’t camping in all neighbourhoods and are most concentrated in Central Park. Others of you have asked when we will be enforcing the bylaws we passed requiring more spacing between tents which will result in less people in any one park and more people in all parks.  As with all new bylaws, there is a period of community engagement and education and we are currently are in that phase. City staff are also developing a strategy to apply these bylaws in a manner where redistribution of tents and the people living in them is done in a thoughtful, compassionate and collaborative manner with both the unhoused and the larger community. In the meantime, in the North Park neighbourhood where Central Park is located, the North Park Community Association is heavily involved with solutions and they are working with City staff and the unhoused community in the park. Everyone is working together to find a way forward.

And some of you have simply said, “I want my park back.” I want this too. More than anything. Because it will mean that we’ve moved people inside. It will mean that they’re no longer in such desperate and vulnerable situations. It will mean that the parks feel more welcoming to everyone again. It will mean that some of the tensions in our community that have been heightened because of pandemic-related homelessness will lessen. I was so surprised to learn that there are people throwing rocks and bottles at tents, it seemed to me for a moment when I heard this story that we’d lost our way. But I know we haven’t. Because all of you are writing to me to share your concerns. To ask questions. To share ideas. To engage in dialogue about this really, really difficult issue. It’s this ongoing dialogue that gives me hope that we will find our way through this. 

With gratitude,
Lisa / Mayor Helps

P.S. To those of you who wrote to me about downtown and Centennial Square, please see my post from Sunday September 13, under the heading Parks Bylaw Changes, Centennial Square and Policing where I address this issue.

“It may be the end of the world as we know it, but other worlds are possible.” – Anab Jain, Calling for More-Than-Human Politics

Camping in Parks Update, Mourning, For Now not Forever – Mayor’s Sunday email – September 13

Two new Regional Housing First buildings opening in Langford and View Royal this fall, with rents starting at $375 per month. This is part of the “positive flow” process that will help move people out of parks and inside to safe, secure affordable housing. More below.

Good morning everyone,

Thanks so much for taking the time to write to me over this past week, and the past few weeks. I’ve read all of your emails and I’ve received a lot! So as I have on previous Sundays, I’m taking the opportunity to write back to all of you together. As I’ve said in earlier emails, what follows is meant to be an honest and open-hearted approach. Just me, Lisa, reflecting and sharing with you on a Sunday morning. No “key messages” or talking points etc. For those of you who haven’t read my emails from the past two weeks, you can find them here.

I so appreciate the thoughtful and constructive tone of so many of the emails I’ve received. Many of you are sharing your stories about the impacts you’re feeling from having people living in our parks – from feelings of fear, to having things stolen from your yards, to seeing the kinds of behaviours that frighten you and/or your children, to the impacts on your businesses. Some of you have shared stories about conversations you’ve had with your unhoused neighbours over the past few weeks and have contacted me to share what some individuals need. Thank you; this allows us to help direct the organizations providing outreach to the right places.

Many of you are also expressing compassion for people who find themselves homeless and living in a park in an unprecedented global health pandemic; you realize the complexity of the situation and that there are no easy solutions. Many of you have also made suggestions such as better access to treatment – noting that some of the people you’ve encountered need more than just housing but support for their mental health and addictions challenges. Or building tiny homes. Or moving people out of town into one large area and providing the supports they need there. All of you have said that there are no good places in the city for people to live outside. Some of you think that the City of Victoria, or me personally has created this situation and should just clean it up. And a few of you thought that the language I used in my email last Sunday was stigmatizing and creating more ill will towards people who are living in our community without homes.

While I may not speak to your individual concerns precisely in this email, I do want to give an update on some of the things that we’re working on. I agree wholeheartedly that there are no good places for people to be living outside in a country as prosperous as Canada. It’s wrong, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s having negative impacts on everyone, housed and unhoused.

Before I get into the steps we’re taking to move people inside over the next four to six months, I want to address another theme that came through in many of your emails. A sense of loss and mourning. And a sense that the situation we find ourselves in is somehow permanent, that this is the new Victoria rather than a moment of crisis.

I share your sense of mourning. I feel terrible that some people feel afraid to use the parks. And I feel terrible that some people have nowhere to live inside and nowhere to go during the day and that they are living in parks. It is a source of grief and heartbreak. The other thing that feels so difficult for me is to watch our community divided over this issue. I know compassion is so very difficult to muster when you’ve had your window smashed, or your golf clubs stolen, or when your kids feel afraid. It’s really hard. And it’s not my place to tell people to be more compassionate. That always backfires and creates a sense of defensiveness. So what I will say, to quote our beloved provincial public health officer Dr. Henry, is that this is for now, it is not forever. We are in a crisis situation, we are still living under a Provincial State of Emergency. We are not “back to normal” whatever that means. People will get housed. People will have their parks back for more recreational uses. The Provincial State of Emergency will be lifted at some point.

This is for now, it’s not forever. The current moment we find ourselves in is not indicative of Victoria’s future; Victoria has a bright future. And one of the reasons I’m a wee bit weary these days is that I’m working so hard to address the crisis of homelessness on our doorsteps and in our parks (with completely inadequate resources), at the same time as working just as hard on the City’s future through the implementation of Victoria 3.0 to make sure that Victorians in the coming decades have a strong inclusive economy, good jobs and a bright future. Here’s a good recent article from Douglas Magazine that shares some of that work. We will get through this. And we’ll come out stronger if, and this is a big if, we can work hard together to change the tone of the conversations we’re having about our beloved city right now, and if we can find a way to have our shared fears, our shared vulnerabilities – housed and unhoused people alike – bring us closer together rather than drive us further apart.

Community Wellness Alliance and Coordinated Assessment and Access
As I’ve said in the past two Sunday emails, I co-chair a Community Wellness Alliance with Island Health. This group existed pre-COVID but has pivoted now to help address the camping in parks issue. We’ve formed a Decampment Working Group that meets weekly to move people from outside to inside. Over the next four months there are a substantial number of indoor spaces that will be available, not enough to take care of everyone living outside at this point, but a significant number.

There are 60 units opening in November in Langford and View Royal as part of the Regional Housing First Program (RHFP.) These units rent at $375 per month. Our thinking is that people currently living in motels, shelters or supportive housing can move into these units and then 60 people can move from outside into the spaces vacated. There are also 24 units for treatment available at Our Place’s Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal. These are for men who are ready to access treatment. It is their home and community for up to two years. In addition, BC Housing and Island Health are providing some “rent supplements”. This is a top-up provided to the income assistance rate which makes it possible for people to move from supportive housing into market rental units. And then, as with the Regional Housing First units, people can move from parks into the supportive housing units that are vacated. The announcement about the number of rent supplements available is not mine to make, but I will say that it’s not an insignificant number.

This whole “positive flow” process – from supportive housing to RHFP or market unit and then from parks to supportive housing – is coordinated by the BC Housing, Island Health and the CRD. As vacancies become available, the CAA placement table meets and decides who is moving where based on the needs that they have identified in their housing application. Part of the key work of the Decampment Working Group in the next couple of weeks is ensuring that everyone living outside has a housing application filled out; many currently do and are in line for housing.

The CAA policy group (a separate group from the placement table) sets the priorities on an annual basis for who gets housed. There has been a lot of debate about whether people who are living in our parks are from here or not. While we respect the freedom of movement of people in Canada, Council passed a motion that I brought forward asking the CAA policy group to prioritize housing people who have lived in the region for a year or more. The CAA policy table will make this decision on September 23rd.

I  know this is a lot of detail. But many of you have written to me asking me to do something! And I just wanted to assure you all that we are; the Community Wellness Alliance and the CAA process and all the amazing folks out there on the front lines in the parks, connecting with people and doing outreach, are aiming to move as many of the 275 people who are currently living outside as possible into safe, secure indoor places over the next four months. It is slow, hard work.

Parks Bylaw Changes, Centennial Square and Policing
On Thursday, Council finalized changes to the parks bylaw that will help us to better manage the current situation. The changes include a limit to the amount of space each sheltering area can occupy (3m x 3m), a 4m space between shelters, an 8m requirement between shelters and playgrounds and 50m from shelters to school grounds. The portion of the bylaw that allows daytime camping will expire 30 days after the Province lifts the State of Emergency. The effect of these changes is that it will limit the number of people camping in any one park. This does mean that unless help comes soon from the federal or provincial governments, we will see people moving from some parks (eg Central Park has over 80 tents; the new rules mean there is room for about 20 tents there) to other parks around the city. The Coalition to End Homelessness is working to coordinate outreach and to ensure that there is outreach available to where people will be moving to. Many of you have of said in your emails that moving people around from one park to another does not solve the problem. I agree.

Council also decided this past week to continue to allow camping in Centennial Square. Camping is not currently possible there as staff are remediating the grounds from the encampment that just left. When and if people choose to return there, the new bylaws and spacing requirements will restrict the number of tents to somewhere between 4 and 6.  I respect Council’s decision, but I disagree with it. As I said, moving people from park to park doesn’t make sense. And there are no good outdoor spaces for camping in the city for people who are vulnerable and need to be inside. But I think that Centennial Square and the downtown need to be treated as a special case.

Downtown is the economic engine of the region. Our downtown businesses are already struggling as a result of COVID-19. I think that as a city government we need to do everything in our power to support them right now. Some of the people who work in these businesses are relatively low-wage service workers who may themselves be teetering precariously on the brink of homelessness if they lose their jobs because of a business closure, and can’t pay their rent. I realize that advocating for no camping downtown puts pressure on neighbourhood parks. But as mayor I need think about all angles and considerations. The economic health of our downtown benefits all of us. Businesses pay more than three times the amount of taxes as residential property owners do; these business taxes help pay for the amenities and quality of life that we all enjoy as Victorians. Council did decide to ask staff to come back in a month’s time with some sort of analysis on the impacts of not allowing camping in the downtown. So that conversation will continue.

Council also decided on Thursday to allocate close to an additional $100,000 for policing for the remainder of 2020 to help ensure safety and security around the areas where people are camping. Police aren’t the answer to solving or even managing homelessness. But between approving funding for the Coalition to End Homelessness to work with people in encampments, to changes to the parks bylaws, to additional policing, we are taking as comprehensive and systemic an approach possible to manage what is a very difficult situation for everyone.

The Federal Government
Last week I asked people to write to the federal government to request that they support the Province to acquire more housing for people who are currently living outside. I hope that many of you did. One resident shared their email with me, and I wanted to say thanks and to share this email with all of you for inspiration in case you also wish to write.

Subject: Homeless crisis solution for Victoria requires federal support asap.
To: adam.vaughan@parl.gc.ca <adam.vaughan@parl.gc.ca>, ahmed.hussen@parl.gc.ca <ahmed.hussen@parl.gc.ca>, laurel.collins@parl.gc.ca <laurel.collins@parl.gc.ca>

Dear MPs: I write regarding the ongoing social and health crisis here in Victoria due to a severe lack of supportive housing for several hundred homeless citizens currently encamped in parks throughout the city. As you may be aware, both the civic administration and the provincial government have deployed millions of dollars to acquire and repurpose hotel and motel facilities in the city  but have still fallen short of the target, leaving approximately 254 homeless without any option other than continued tenting in public parks, where criminal activities and vandalism have provoked a serious backlash from residents and business owners. 

With a concurrent opioid crisis, mental health crisis and the likelihood of a second wave of Covid19 this fall, it is absolutely vital that this problem be solved asap. But it is clear this will not happen unless the federal government agrees to join the battle and shoulder its share of the load. I needn’t remind you that Ottawa created a $46billion fund in 2018 to support affordable housing projects across the country, but to date has approved less than one percent, or $7.3 million for two projects in BC while Ontario has received $1.39 billion for 12 projects. Surely it is obvious that Victoria’s problem, while significant, could be resolved for far less than that, especially when the province’s contribution is added. I urge you to consider this issue and press the government to respond soon. I look forward to your response. 

Regards,

There are some glimmers of hope coming out of Ottawa in terms of a substantial housing acquisition fund. We’ll keep working with our colleagues at the federal government to ensure that once this fund is announced that the money gets out as quickly as possible.

I know this has been a lot of information to share all at once. I’ve been sitting here typing for the last hour and a half and it’s probably time to get up, refill my coffee and then tackle all of the other non-homelessness related “action items” coming out of various meetings this past week.

With gratitude for you taking the time to read this email and for your ongoing shared love of our city and our community.

Lisa / Mayor Helps

“It may be the end of the world as we know it, but other worlds are possible.” –  Anab Jain, Calling for a More-Than-Human-Politics 

Sheltering in parks, Kids at Play, State of Emergency and Confronting Reality – Mayor’s Sunday Email – Sept 6 and August 30

Good morning everyone,

For the past many months I’ve been spending my Sunday mornings responding one at a time to emails I receive from residents during the week. Because I’m receiving many emails on the same topic with shared concerns and a variety of perspectives, I’ve decided to write back to all of you at once. I’ve read all of your emails and hopefully you will see some of your concerns reflected and responded to here.

This email is long, but I do encourage you to read all the way through! It’s also going to be human and honest, not bureaucratic or communications-speak. This is a really difficult situation we’re in right now, all of us, and it’s going to take our shared humanity and a great deal of honesty, as well as courage to get through it. It’s also going to require ongoing open-hearted conversations.

So as not to repeat myself from August 30th, but to be sure that everyone has as much information as possible, I’ve pasted the email from last week at the bottom. Also, if reading long emails is not your thing, I do a weekly Facebook Live on Friday afternoons. This week’s video is here and above. If you’re only interested in discussions of sheltering in parks, you can skip to 4:15. If you want comprehensive information, please watch the video AND read this email.

First I’d like to say that I so appreciate all of you taking the time to write. I’m heartened that most of the emails are thoughtful and respectful, with good questions, concerns and suggestions. It’s only through thoughtful dialogue that we are going to find our way through this. I thought about excluding those from this response who were swearing or yelling eg. ALL CAPS with LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! 🙂 in their emails, but my job is to be as open as possible with everyone, regardless of what kind of response I might get back.

The thing that is heartbreaking for me, which many of your emails point to, is the tension between two really important things. One the one hand, we need safe spaces for kids (and of course adults too, but many of the emails this week focused on kids) to play and recreate. This is so important for all sorts of reasons from a sense of connection to their place and their neighbourhood, to the obvious benefits of outdoor activity and exercise, to the special need for outdoor play during the pandemic where transmission of infection is much lower. On the other hand, there is the need for people who have nowhere else to go to take shelter. And so the City’s parks have become somewhat of a battle ground between these two important social and human needs.

Many of you have written really heartfelt emails – from neighbourhoods all across the city – about why the park in your neighbourhood isn’t a good place to camp. It’s got a playground, a sports field, it’s close to a residential area. The city has a terrific parks system with great parks in every neighbourhood. None of them are good places for people to be sheltering outdoors. 

But we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands. Some of you have said that you are concerned that people are coming here from elsewhere because Victoria is taking two light of an approach with respect to homelessness. There likely are people who have come here from across the country, there’s no denying that and it tends to happen every summer, anecdotally anyway. 

But the bigger reason we’re seeing an increase of people in our parks is because of COVID. In March, all the shelters in the city had to cut their numbers by almost half because of physical distancing. Not one of them have increased back to their regular numbers since then. Additionally, when we were all told to get into our bubbles and stay there, anyone precariously housed (couch surfing, or staying with relatives, etc) was sent outside. The Province worked very hard and moved about 500 people indoors in April and May. Yet still about 275 people remain outside.

And in terms of during the day and where people will go, pre-COVID, Our Place on Pandora could accommodate hundreds of people indoors, for meals and programming, etc. Now they can have a maximum of 40 people inside. So both at night and during the day, there is literally nowhere for people to go. This is the case across the country. Victoria is not unique (I said this last Sunday too! Sorry for the repeat but it feels really important.) In Toronto, for example, the policy is to allow people to shelter in parks until indoor solutions can be found. Once people are offered indoor alternatives, then the camps are cleared. 

So what are we going to do? The first thing we have to do, as a community is to confront reality. I’ll explain what I mean by this in a moment. The second thing we need to do is to manage the situation better. Council made some decisions this week that will help us to do that. Third, we need earnest advocacy to the federal government to help us (some of you suggested this in your emails, thank you, I’ll put some addresses below). Fourth, we need immediate creative solutions and hard work. Fifth, we need to try to put each ourselves in each other’s shoes.

First – Confront Reality 
When I was the Executive Director of Community Micro Lending, we had a mentor come in and meet with the entrepreneurs on a regular basis as a group. The mentors were successful business people. One evening, one of the mentors shared his story when he was talking about how to build trust with customers. He was running a tech company in Vancouver and had a very big project to deliver to a client in Seattle. Like really big – millions of dollars. And he ran into a snag. His employees came into his office and said that the project was behind, they didn’t know when they were going to be able to get it back on track, there were massive issues with it.

So he immediately got into his car, drove to Seattle and met in person with the CEO of the company he was supposed to deliver the product to. The CEO of course was surprised to see him, but invited him into his office. He sat down and said, “We are going to be late on the project. I can’t tell you how late or when we’ll be able to deliver it. But I needed to come here in person to be totally honest and to confront this reality with you.” The CEO appreciated his honestly and forthrightness. The project was eventually delivered and because of that one interaction, the sheer honesty of the company owner and his ability to confront reality, he got many more contracts in the future with the Seattle company, even though he had really screwed that big one up. 

We have to confront reality as a community. I can’t tell you when the issue of camping in parks is going to be resolved because there is no easy resolution. We’re going to need to continue to live in this difficult situation, to find our way through until help comes, because the City can’t solve the problem alone. There were some glimmers of hope this week from the Premier but we don’t know when the situation we’re in will end and when people will get the housing and supports that many of them need and want. The no camping during the day will be enforced again when the Provincial State of Emergency ends, but we don’t know when this will be. 

Second – Manage the Situation Better
Here is a staff report that was presented to and adopted by Council last Thursday. It is meant to address some of the issues that you’ve been writing to us about. There will be a 10ft x 10ft site for each person sheltering and a buffer of 4m between tents and between tents and sports courts and playgrounds. And a 50m buffer between encampments and schools. This means, for example that in Central Park where there are currently over 70 tents, there will be room for 21 tents. Each park will essentially have a limit to the number of tents based on these spacing guidelines. We will also be hiring 5 additional bylaw officers to help address the issues in parks. Council also gave some funding to the Coalition to End Homelessness to do some work with people living in parks so that they can help to better manage the situation themselves. This might seem to some of you like a strange thing to do, but what we’ve heard through staff and other advocacy groups and from some of the people living outdoors themselves is that they want to be good neighbours and that sometimes it’s just a few people who make it difficult for others. The people living in parks want some agency in determining their own living circumstances so that they can help address the issues. 

Third – Advocate to the Federal Government          
During the pandemic the Provincial government has spent tens of millions of dollars in our region attempting to address pandemic-related homelessness. The federal government has committed $1.3 million to address homelessness during the pandemic. Just like the City, the Provincial government needs help. 

It would be great if people could write to the Minister Families, Children and Social Development, Ahmed Hussen (Ahmed.Hussen@parl.gc.ca) and his Parliamentary Secretary Adam Vaughan (Adam.Vaughan@parl.gc.ca) and talk about the need for federal support to address pandemic-related homelessness in Victoria and across the country. Please stress the urgency of the situation and share some of the stories that you’ve shared with me, with them. 

Fourth – Immediate Creative Solutions and Hard Work
While it’s true that the City didn’t create homeless and can’t end it, we have a role to play. We’ve created the Community Wellness Alliance that I co-chair with Island Health. This group includes Island Health, BC Housing, the Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness as well as city staff in bylaw and the mayor and city manager’s office and representatives from various provincial ministries. We’ve formed a Decampment Working Group and we’ve identified a significant number of indoor spaces that will be available over the next six months. The Decampment Working Group, which I chair is meeting weekly, vacancy by vacancy, person by person, to work on getting people matched with appropriate housing and corresponding supports. There’s a committed and hard working group of people at that table. But it’s very slow work. The good news from the past week is that we moved seven people from outdoors to indoors. 

During my Community Drop In this past week, one resident asked what she could to. I shared this in the chat as it had been recently sent to me by another Victoria resident – it’s called the Block Project and it’s a good idea that residents in Seattle have implemented.  I’m sharing this in case it’s of interest of anyone to follow up with the folks in Seattle. 

Fifth – Put Ourselves in Each Other’s Shoes
One set of shoes: What would it be like to be a young family, or a senior citizen who relies on neighbourhood parks for recreation, exercise well-being, who now feels that their park has been taken away, it feels unsafe. There are strangers living there who they don’t know and who they feel scared of. You feel vulnerable.

The other set of shoes: What would it be like to be living in a neighbourhood park. You don’t have anywhere else to go. You are truly homeless. You’re scared that winter is coming and you’ll still be outside. You don’t have anywhere safe to be, ever, because you have no home to retreat to. You feel vulnerable. 

Thank you for taking the time to wade through this very long email and for your open-hearted generosity as we continue to find our way through this very challenging situation, together.

Lisa / Mayor Helps

Email from Sunday August 30 2020 

Good morning everyone,

I usually spend my Sunday mornings responding one at a time to emails I receive from residents during the week. I did this last Sunday and only made it through a fraction of the emails that had come in over the past few weeks. So this weekend, because many of you have written on similar topics, and so I can be sure to respond in more of a timely way, I thought I’d reply to you all at once. I’ve read all your emails and will make sure that there’s enough information in here to address the concerns you’ve raised. 

This email may be a bit lengthy, but I do encourage you to read all the way through! It’s also going to be human and honest, not bureaucratic or communications-speak. This is a really difficult situation we’re in right now, all of us, and it’s going to take our shared humanity and a great deal of honesty, as well as courage to get through it. It’s also going to require ongoing open-hearted conversations.

I accept responsibility for allowing people to camp in Beacon Hill Park and in parks across the city. We did so based on the guidance of Dr. Henry who sent guidelines to mayors across the Province in June 8th. In case you haven’t seen these, I’m attaching them for you here. 

I acknowledge that this is a really difficult situation for everyone. I know this from the experiences you have shared with me as residents living near parks, or who have kids going to schools near parks where people are camping, or as people who work downtown, or have kids who work downtown. I also know it’s difficult for people living in parks – they have become the objects of frustration, hatred in some cases, anger and derision. A large majority of people living in the parks have filled out housing applications and are on BC Housing’s waitlist; they want to move inside. And it’s not easy for our staff working in the parks – they love their work, they take pride in maintaining the parks for public use and enjoyment; the current situation and all the tension is really hard for them. And it’s not easy for me either, I feel despair that we can’t do more to fix the situation, we can only manage the crisis that has landed on our doorsteps as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

I also acknowledge that there are no easy answers. At this point there is nowhere to move people to, there are no more indoor or outdoor spaces I can think of to try as temporary indoor solutions after Oak Bay Lodge, UVIC, CFB Esquimalt, and Ogden Point, all of which are unavailable for various reasons. Victoria is not alone. I was talking to a colleague in the City of Toronto recently – there are eight encampments in his riding alone. I also met with the head of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness last week; he tells me there are encampments in cities all across the country. 

So what are we going to do? It’s not working having people living outside in the downtown core. This is putting tremendous pressure on our small businesses many of which are already struggling to survive through the pandemic. In addition, due to the reports released by the police late last week on the concentration of drug trafficking at that encampment and the violence that went along with that trafficking, our Director of Parks has used his authority under the parks bylaw to temporarily close a section of a park, in this case, the areas where people are currently camped. This is effective as of Tuesday September 1st

It’s also not working to have people camping close to schools (South Park as well as the Montessori in Selkirk) or near playgrounds. Children are our collective future. They are also vulnerable residents who need safe places to be and especially safe places to be given the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of being outside. 

Our staff have been looking into what other cities are doing to manage pandemic-related homelessness and they will be bringing a report to Council for our meeting this Thursday that has some new approaches to managing encampments for the duration of the Provincial State of Emergency. This likely includes things like wider buffer zones between tents and playing fields and playgrounds, more space between tents – which will have the effect of limiting the number of tents in a given park, and a prohibition on camping near schools. You can read the report here when it is published – which should be sometime on Monday afternoon. From what I understand, staff will be recommending that these changes are in place as long as the Provincial State of Emergency is in place and that 30 days after the Province lifts the State of Emergency, the regular bylaw will come back into effect, which allows people to shelter overnight from 7pm – 7am. 

I know some of you would like to see an immediate end to tents set up in parks during the day. As I see it, as this point, that’s not practical. Here’s why I think that: Enforcing the 7 to 7 bylaw, would mean that every day, 250 people or so would need to pack up all their things and leave the parks. Where would they go? Our Place still has limited capacity and so does the library – two places where people experiencing homelessness are welcomed. And what if it rains and everything they have gets wet? How do you fall asleep that night on a soggy wet blanket? 

We are in the middle of a global health pandemic and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Great Depression lately, and what our city looked like then. The “symbols”, if we can call it that, of the Great Depression were people in bread lines and living in “hobo jungles” and riding the rails looking for work. As a result of the Depression, the Canadian welfare state was built to ensure that there was a safety net created for those who fell through the cracks at that time. The “symbol” of this economic crisis is people with mental health and addictions challenges, living in parks. They have fallen through the cracks. All we can hope and continue to advocate for, is that a new safety net will be created. 

As many of you have said in your thoughtful emails to me, this isn’t primarily about homelessness. We need to distinguish between those that need housing and those that need structured therapeutic help for mental health and addiction issues. There are currently no treatment beds in the city for those with addictions issues. See the front page story in Times Colonist.  Addressing this dire situation requires provincial leadership and courage across the board. 

But in the meantime, as mayor, I’m doing the small part that I can on this complex issue. We’ve created the Community Wellness Alliance that I co-chair with Island Health. This group includes Island Health, BC Housing, the Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness as well as city staff in bylaw and the mayor and city manager’s office and representatives from various provincial ministries. We’ve formed a Decampment Working Group and we’ve identified a number of indoor spaces that may be available over the next six months, starting with a few that are available immediately including 24 new spaces at the Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal. The Decampment Working Group, which I chair is meeting weekly, vacancy by vacancy, person by person, to work on getting people matched with appropriate housing and corresponding supports. There’s a committed and hard working group of people at that table. But it’s very slow work. 

At the risk of over-sharing, or getting too personal, I did want to leave you with a book that I’ve been reading and re-reading throughout the uncertain times that the pandemic has brought. And in particular I’d like to share a passage that I’ve been reading before bed every single night for months now. If this is of use or help to you, that’s wonderful. If not, that’s okay too! If any of you have similar resources to share, please write me to let me know.

The book is by Pema Chodron and it’s called, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. This passage is from teaching #40 “Thinking Bigger” and it’s helping me to remain soft:

“It’s easy to continue, even after years of practice, to harden into a position of anger and indignation. However, if we can contact the vulnerability and rawness of resentment or rage or whatever it is, a bigger perspective can emerge. In the moment we choose to abide with the energy instead of acting it out or repressing it, we are training in equanimity, in thinking bigger than right and wrong. This is how all the four limitless qualities – love, compassion, joy, and equanimity – evolve from limited to limitless: we practice catching our mind hardening into fixed views and do our best to soften. Through softening, the barriers come down.”

With gratitude for you taking the time to read this email and for your ongoing shared love of our city and our community.

Lisa / Mayor Helps

“It may be the end of the world as we know it, but other worlds are possible.” – Anab Jain, Calling for More-Than-Human Politics

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

Screenshot 2020-07-26 11.26.01

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

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

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

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

Right To Home Documentaries

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

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

Screenshot 2020-07-26 11.28.30

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

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

Screenshot 2020-07-26 11.29.15

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Not Let the Issue of Homelessness Divide Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Participatory Budgeting and Everyday Creativity Grants Help Residents #buildbackbetter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

News from the federal government

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

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

News from the City – Focusing on Earth Day

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

Get Growing Victoria!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Trees In Cities

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

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

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

Feedback on vulnerable populations

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

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

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

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

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

 News from the community

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

Screenshot 2020-04-22 22.49.24

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

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