Victoria hopes to get all unhoused people currently sheltering in city parks, housed by spring.
A motion, put forward by Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Jeremy Loveday during Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting, asks that the city, along with Island Health and BC Housing, offer housing or indoor shelter to everyone currently sheltering outdoors by March 31, 2021. In addition, it sets the same deadline for the end of 24/7 sheltering in city parks.
Loveday said he was coming from the standpoint of housing as a human right, adding that he doesn’t want to see the normalization of sheltering in parks permanently and called the move a step in the right direction.
Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe questioned how the city would manage people without homes who move to parks after the motion had passed with the intention of getting free housing. Helps said the wording of the motion was important, pointing to the fact it states ‘currently’ sheltering in the park. She added that people have been coming to Victoria every summer and a “bigger deal” has been made of it this year.
The estimated number of people living without homes in Victoria is 250. Helps said that if rental supplements from BC Housing came through, it would be possible to house approximately 200 people by the end of 2020. The motion states BC Housing would provide 100 rent supplements, to top-up provided to the income assistance rates to make it possible for people living in supportive housing to move into market rental units.
When questioned on what discussions the city has had with BC Housing and if they were aware of these actions, the meeting was taken in camera to discuss.
In addition to the rental supplements, 60 units open this month in Langford and View Royal, renting for $375 per month as part of the Regional Housing First Program. People who are living in motels, shelters or supportive housing can move into these units and then 60 people living outside can move into vacated spaces.
Another 24 units for treatment are available at Our Place’s Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal. Council is also recommending that staff work with a private land owner or use city-used land to build tiny home clusters of no more than 30, in shipping containers.
The motion is also requesting the province immediately open the empty Oak Bay Lodge for people who are 55 years or older and are living in city park or shelters until the vacant building is demolished.
Coun. Geoff Young said that while he was in agreement with the idea that people living in parks is unacceptable, he had a number of concerns regarding the motion. First, he said, the motion assumes that once people are inside that will address all other issues unhoused people face. He also pointed out that there’s the suggested implication that the city will bypass normal zoning procedures in an effort to get housing built quickly.
The motion adds, which Young called an “escape clause,” that only when housing and shelter space has been made available can the 24/7 sheltering in parks bylaw be ended.