I find myself sitting in bed today, overlooking Beacon Hill Park, at the brink of tears. It is been a long week. I am overwhelmed by what I see and hear in the park and surrounding area and the consistent and constant disregard for our fellow human beings – both in and out of the park.
I continue to see the never-ending procession of police cars, ambulance and more firetrucks in and around the park. I have been woken-up in the middle of the night several times by the yelling and screaming never knowing if someone was hurt, and I remained awake all night while a man in the centre of the park yelled throughout the night. I find myself constantly on alert.
It’s been about two weeks since wrote to our political leaders pleading for help for those who are living in our city parks. Few have replied, and those who did so with no substance. The silence is deafening.
I have however heard a number of community members, most of whom contacted me with support and to thank me for speaking-up; many had wanted to but where afraid. I knew when I wrote the letter some people were worried about public backlash and felt shunned into silence. What I didn’t realize was how afraid they were, some fearing the threat of physical violence.
As a Canadian, I have always felt that it is my duty to speak-up and share my views, particularly when I or others are being harmed. Without the people’s voice, there is no democracy. Our voice being taken away through legislation, by threat of physical violence or through blatant disregard are all equally harmful. There is something seriously wrong in our city and the direction our leaders are taking it. When we are silenced, nothing is solved.
Victoria’s City Council passed a motion in November that set a date of March 31st, 2021 to end 24/7 camping in parks. They have set in motion a “plan” to house the homeless. Yet so much is missing from that plan. In her blog, Mayor helps has outlines a plan that will offer everyone currently sleeping outdoors shelter. The main points of the plan are to offer:
- 80 market rental units through rent supplements
- 30 motel rooms at Capital City Centre which are to be repaired
- 48 temporary shelter spaces at Save on Foods Memorial Arena from March to May 30
- 30 temporary tiny homes in the Royal Athletic Parking lot from March 2021 to September 2022
- A youth opportunity
- Other indoor sheltering locations
I encourage everyone to be curious about the offerings and ask Mayor and Council to provide clarification. If you are not satisfied with the answers, it may be further indication that the city alone can’t manage this crisis and we need the support of all levels of government.
Here are just a few of my preliminary questions:
- Has this plan been crafted for the current demographic living in our parks?
- There are 80 subsidies which is great. Are there 80 market units available for rent? Are there 80 people ready to move into them?
- How many of those currently living in parks are willing or able to shelter in the Save on Center? and where will they stay after May 31? If no one wants to shelter in this space do tax-payers still pay for it?
- I have heard that many people are hard to house. Of those currently living in parks how many are hard to house? According to the CRDPoint-in-time count 67% of our homeless have substance abuse issues and a further 58% have mental health issues. Are the proposed solutions suitable for these community members? We are close to 75% of the population living in the parks hard to house. I am fairly certain non could apply for rental subsidies and move into market rental units which is 40% of your solution.
- How many of those living in parks qualify as youth and of those how many are willing to move indoors? I had read in the last CRDPoint-in-time count 8% of the homeless are youth (16 people) which includes those who are in currently in transitional housing, couch surfing and living in institutions. I am curious to know if there are now 30 youth living outdoors who want to come indoors and if yes why has this number more than doubled? And if only half of the space is used are tax-payers on the hook for the other half? It seems we could use these funds for services instead of empty space.
- Does everyone currently living in our parks qualify for BC Housing? If not where will they go? I am fairly certain the woman living in the park across from me can’t live in any building as she yells profanities all day and night.
- How many homeless are you providing shelter to and what are you doing to ensure our city has the capacity to address the needs if additional people come here for services; or where will you direct them?
All of these questions lead to the same over-arching question: Is what the city is planning the right solution for those living in parks. If not, why are they moving forward with something that will inevitably fail?
If you like me would like to see a real plan that address the needs of not just the homeless including those who suffer from addiction and mental-health issuesI urge you to use your voice by contacting all levels of government and request an emergency task force (view the sample letter). The path we are currently does not appear to be a well thought out plan and our Mayor and Council should not be taking on these issues alone. If we maintain the current course public parks will continue to be used as a dumping ground for the mentally ill and we will waste millions on facilities that don’t work. Now is the time to speak, your community needs you.