January 24, 2021

To:

Honourable Premier of BC, john.horgan.mla@leg.bc.ca
Hon. David Eby, Q.C., Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing. david.eby.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Honourable Josie Osborne, Minister of Municipal Affairs. josie.osborne.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health adrian.dix.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Honourable Mike Farnworth, Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General mike.farnworth.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Honourable Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions sheila.malcolmson.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Grace Lore, MLA, Victoria-Beacon Hill, grace.lore.MLA@leg.bc.ca
Laurel Collins, MP, Victoria, laurel.collins@parl.gc.ca
Lisa Helps, Mayor, Victoria BC lhelps@victoria.ca
Fred Haynes, Mayor, District of Saanich, mayor@saanich.ca
Malcolm McNaughton, Director Regional Development Vancouver Island Region, BC Housing mmcnaughton@bchousing.org
Barbara Desjardins, Mayor, Esquimalt, jodi.graham@esquimalt.ca
David Screech, Mayor, View Royal, mayorscreech@viewroyal.ca
Chet Phillips, Lead Organizer Greater Victoria Act Together chet@gvat.ca
Kelly Roth, Executive Director, Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness kroth@victoriahomelessness.ca
Colin Plant, CRD Board Chair, colin.plant@saanich.ca

Dear leaders

I am a long-time resident of Victoria living in James Bay. I am also a person living with a MultipleSclerosis (MS). I am writing to you as a private citizen who lives directly across the street from Beacon Hill Park. I wish to share my story of the park.

The story of Beacon Hill Park can be overwhelming and difficult to share. Life for those living in the park is clearly not an easy one. At the same time, their presence in the park has created stress for the community members living nearby. Local residents have been on the receiving end of backlash from the city when they speak out about their concerns. Sadly, this has given others in Victoria license to do the same creating division and a culture of fear and silence in the community. I am writing to you with hope that we can break the silence and create a space to hear the stories of those who live around the park and work toward change.

Sharing our stories does not mean we lack empathy, in fact, I would say it is the opposite. It is those of us who live by the park that hear the constant cries and see the suffering first-hand. Yes, we want the park to be a place for everyone, but more importantly, many of us see how inhumane abandoning people to the parks to fend for themselves is.

Beacon Hill Park, and most other parks in the city for that matter, have become a long-term “solution”to homelessness. This comes with a high human and financial cost that is diverting funds away from community services that could truly help. Do not mistake my words for a bid to defund the police. It is merely my observation that there is a significant increase in police and other emergency responders in front of my home attending to people in the park. There are also a dozens of community workers and medical staff from agencies throughout the city reaching out to those living in the parks, not to mention bylaw enforcement officers and security. The past week alone I have seen four fires, two of them directly in front of my residence (not reported by media), one across from the children’s playground near South Park School and more recently one near the Petting Zoo where a person was also attacked. These are just the calls I am aware of, and with all of these calls comes a high financial and human cost and no change.

In front of where I live there are several tents, some visible and others hidden amongst the trees. A couple lives in the tent directly in front of my building. They yell at each other violently throughout the day and night, so much so that some of the others living in tents near by appear to have moved. It is distressing and heartbreaking hearing the shrieking through my windows; I can’t imagine what it is like living in a tent near-by.

About 2 weeks ago, at about 3:00 AM, the woman from this tent was in a psychotic rage. It was more than enough noise to wake up local residents as she stood in front of my building yelling profanities at the top of her lungs. Fortunately, a community worker was called and remained near-by assisting her. This yelling went on for over an hour. Eventually several first responders arrived, and things settled.This was not the first time or the most recent and it will continue until she receives the right help. The “solution” at this point appears to be prolonging her suffering and pain. All the while others are caught in the crossfire.

As an unwilling participant in this constant barrage of misery and human suffering I find myself unable to sleep most nights and at a heightened state of anxiety during the day. All of this at a cost to my health and leaving me vulnerable to MS relapses and attacks, some of which I have already experienced. Sadly, if this continues much longer, I too may find myself unable to work, pay my rent and living in the park. I suspect I am not alone. For those who hold me in judgement for speaking-up for myself, I can only encourage them to buy or rent a place on the front-line.

Respectfully I am asking for your help. I am asking on behalf of those currently living in the park and around it. My request is not a political one tied to any agency or party; it is a simple humanitarian request, that our parks not be used as a solution for homelessness and the many challenges those currently living in the parks face. I am asking that you encourage all other parties in a position to create a solution set aside any political aspirations and difference so they may simply work with others toward a solution.

It is imperative that an emergency housing task force be struck, including municipal, provincial, federal and health authority representatives, with the goal of creating an immediate plan as well as a longer-term solutions for our regional district. I am aware of many parties considering this issue, but I do not see the evidence that they are working together. I am requesting leadership, and I see you as a key leader in this issue. Someone must act and quickly. Please can you stand up and help the citizens of this region to work together on a solution – we need your help!

With kindness

Susan Simmons

14 thoughts on “

  1. Excellent letter Susan! These problems really started when Mayor Lisa Helps and her minions allowed 24/7 camping in our city parks. This debacle started when the pandemic hit Victoria. I hope you will send a copy of this letter to CFAX radio host Adams Sterling. He has been very outspoken regarding all of the problems arising in city parks since city council made the poor decision to allow 24/7 camping. I feel so terrible for you and others that are bearing the brunt of Helps and her poor policy making. I hope this terrible situation gets resolved ASAP.

    • Sorry but this issue predates Lisa Helps. While it’s fun to disparage elected officials, drug use, mental illness, trauma and lack of affordable housing isn’t a recent thing. In 2009 Mayor Fortin launched a task force based on maybe 80 folks living on Pandora. The province threw millions at the issue and here we are in 2021 and the problem is exponentially worse. Why? That’s the real question. I’d encourage those that feel it’s someone else’s problem to look at the millions of dollars funneled through multiple agencies with their overhead and administrative staff. How about one committed organization looking at the whole issue : asking those that live on the margins what would help.? It’s a complex problem but moving them along isn’t going to make these tortured souls disappear. And they are deserving of our care and support.

  2. Excellent letter. I’m sorry to read how you have been personally impacted. I’m also sorry on a daily basis that anybody in Canada should have to resort to living outside. Your words to our leaders and representatives are measured and wise. I hope they will listen.

  3. Working hard all my life I was finally able to fulfill my dream of retiring in Victoria three years ago. James Bay close to BHP and downtown. With fond memories of my time in BHP with my parents and daughter in the 1980s the park would become my place of solitude, peace and enjoyment of nature. The impact of what was allowed to happen to our park and entire community and downtown left me with no option but to pack up and leave my retirement dream. The financial, emotional and health issues this has cost me has left a lasting impact on me. The inability to safely walk within my community, to shop, walk or enjoy the park or seaside. I don’t drive so was always vulnerable when outdoors. Always looking over my shoulder to see who is fallowing me. With the 24/7 sirens I could find no peace or rest. My heart goes out to the true homeless, no one should be sleeping in tents but it’s the criminal side that comes with it and is allowed that has ruined and taken over our once beauitful city. The handling of the situation has been more then disappointing and destructive.

  4. Susan – I would welcome a connection with you as I too, live with MS, am active (cycling/hiking), retired at 57, am 1/2 block away from BHP and trying to stay involved with changing what is happening in our park. Perhaps we can (at a very safe distance) have a ZOOM call/meet up…Monique Maillard.

  5. There are 2 separate yet conjoining aspects to the current problem of people experiencing homelessness in Beacon Hill Park. The first is homelessness, it is rooted in a housing shortage which is systemic in Victoria, there has been continuous housing shortage in Victoria since the middle of the Second World War. I have done extensive historical research on this issue and I can assure you that this is true.(I can provide you with documentation) Since 2007, the time of the Mayor’s Report there have been the same number of homeless people in Victoria. Four levels of government, the City, the CRD, the province and the federal government have completely failed everyone; first the people experiencing homeless and second the people effected by the situation. The City has a huge number of rental and condo units under construction, more than 10,000, the number of genuinely affordable units is negligible. Approximately 300 supportive housing units are under construction. Unless there is significant ACTION, the number of people experiencing homelessness will keep increasing.
    The second is the lack of treatment for people experiencing mental health difficulties. I live near the corner of Cook and Pandora. I love my neighbourhood but it is definitely not uncommon to wake up to the sound of screams rending the quiet of the night. It makes rips my heart out to see the dreadful pain that these people are experiencing, and realizing that there is so much more pain underlying the outward torment. Since over 1/3 of people of the people experiencing homelessness in Victoria are indigenous I know that they are experiencing pain from physical, mental and generational trauma. Island Health should be providing supports and needed treatment.
    Since the BC government dumping mentally ill people on the streets in the 1980’s and onward, the number of mentally ill people on the street, with no treatment facilities has increased exponentially.
    These are both problems which have been happening for a very long time in Victoria, hopefully some genuine solutions can come out of the current situation

  6. Excellent letter. I love the way you raise the issues with such balance and fairness. Have you ever thought of running for office? Forget that idea. You are much more effective as a private citizen. Keep up the good work. I admire your integrity and energy.
    🤗
    Penny

  7. Hi Susan, thank you for your courage.
    This is one of my comments posted to fb in response to the sudden appearance of the outreach care tent on Cook.

    Even though the citizens of Victoria are struggling to keep their jobs and health through this pandemic, and have had homelessness drug addictions violence vandalism and criminal activity … thrust upon them by a total lack of leadership from our mayor snd provincial government….. Victoria folks are deeply kind caring people.

    To say someone is against a care tent would be fundamentally untrue. However, folks have been living their daily lives with huge increase in crime and destruction of both public & private property. We are simply not qualified to take on these issues yet our government is forcing it upon us by their decades of neglect of mental health.

  8. Thank you for your words, they’re needed. Too many people are going unheard, too many are suffering under this failed solution that deprives everyone of critical public infrastructure, our parks. I’m disheartened by it, by the failure to do as best as possible under difficult circumstances – by the division and hurt that this issue has caused. I’m disheartened that so much damage has been done, damage that didn’t need to be done – to those residing in the park, to the park itself, and to the surrounding neighbourhoods.

    Our parks should have been declared “essential public services” – instead they were allowed to be abused while our rec centres were vacant, while parking lots were vacant, while conference centres and buffet halls were vacant.

    May your words make a difference, and may we please start to do better than we’ve done for all involved.

  9. If you want to see where this problem is heading I suggest you watch “The Fight for the Soul of Seattle” on YouTube. The same thing is happening in Portland, San Francisco etc. Yes I know that this is another country, but the failed policies and “woke” mindset are bleeding over across the border. I have seen our local city staff travel to some of these places to get ideas for infrastructure changes here. Unfortunately, it looks like our politicians are also getting their ideas on governance from these local equivalents to “failed states”. Laws like proposition 47 in California that reduce non-violent crimes like shoplifting to misdemeanours have resulted in a huge increase in thefts. It has become so bad that businesses are just closing up and moving if they can. There is a change in law in Seattle that has been pushed by two council members, called the poverty defence. If a person says that they committed a crime to fill a basic need, then they would not be held liable. So, transportation, for example, is a basic need. Sorry, I needed your bike. Sorry I needed to smash into your car as I needed your laptop to sell to buy drugs. As an addict, that’s a basic need for me….. You see how this would work, and the absolute chaos it will cause. I hope our situation will be brought under control before we get this disconnected from reality. People on the street need sorting. Help those who want to work, get treatment for the addicts and mentally ill, and lock up the criminals. OMG, what about their rights?! How about the public’s right to safety? We are failing the very people who make our society work, and assisting those who are destroying it. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but perhaps I’m just not woke enough to appreciate the filth, violence, and bedlam growing daily in our once beautiful city. That’s my two cents. I hope that combined with other 49 others we might scratch together a dollar towards fixing this….

  10. Susan your letter is very poignant. Homelessness seems to be bourne from a lack of drug addiction treatment and mental health facilities. When the campers were on the Pandora boulevard in front of my residence, it pained me so much to hear the screams and anguishing cries coming from the street. There is a lot of suffering on the street and we definately need a united force of all levels of government to come up with appropriate solutions. It can’t simply be left to the City of Victoria. And, the residents need to be able to reclaim their parks, especially Beacon Hill which the City was entrusted to protect.

  11. homelessness is a huge problem and they need to do something about it and get them off the street so they have a warm place to live they all deserve a fresh start and i think whats happening in victoria is very sad and i hope they can solve the problem and get them a place to live and that you can reclaim your park and people will feel safe walking in the park again i bet right now they don’t feel safe to to walk it

  12. Yes, yes, yes.
    Homelessness is not going to be resolved by abandoning parks to homeless people.
    Children’s play areas are directly affected. A better approach is urgently needed.
    Thank you for your letter.

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