The City of Victoria will not be asking vulnerable community members to take down their tents during the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Lisa Helps said during her daily press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“As soon as Dr. Bonnie Henry made her order about self-isolation and social distancing, the City bylaw staff stopped asking people to take down their tents anywhere in the city,” Helps said. “Wherever people are tenting at this point, they’re following – to the best of their ability – Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders and so no tents will be asked to be taken down until the health pandemic and the health order is lifted by the provincial government.”
When questioned about campers at Topaz Park, Helps said the Victoria Fire Department has deemed the area to be “at capacity” but said the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness is handling the operational management of the park’s temporary residents.
When asked if she’s concerned about people randomly setting up tents, Helps said she’s “very concerned, in a public health emergency, that there is anyone sheltering in the outdoors.”
The questions came in response to a motion coming to Council Thursday to ask the province to secure additional motel or hotel rooms for the homeless.
“Rather than negotiating on a case by case basis, which is what BC Housing has been doing to date, it would give the province the power to say, ‘such and such a building is empty and we are going to take it over for the purposes of providing shelter and indoor accommodation for vulnerable residents,’” Helps said.
The motion follows direction from Island Health to move the city’s homeless population – many of which are camped on Pandora Avenue or in Topaz Park following the closures of Our Place and Cool Aid Societies – to an indoor sheltering model.
“The people who are most vulnerable are being left out on the street because of the kind of voluntary nature of hotel and other indoor sheltering accommodations. We’re asking the province to use the powers they have under the emergency program act to secure more motel rooms because the number BC Housing has isn’t enough to shelter everyone who is outdoors.”
Helps also announced that the City will pay the Downtown Victoria Business Association’s (DVBA) annual levy in July – even though commercial property taxes and DVBA membership dues were extended until August – in order to support local businesses through the economic impacts of the pandemic.
The $1.1 million will float the DVBA for about a month, Helps said, helping the organization stay staffed and ready to support the community through recovery after the pandemic.
The mayor said financially, the city is in relatively good shape and will continue to assess its budget in the coming months.
“The sky isn’t falling here in Victoria,” she said. “What we need to do and what we’ve been doing is signalling to our community that things are well in hand at City Hall, our reserves are in good shape, we’re making the appropriate decisions we need to in terms of scaling back hires…we’re in a pretty good position here.”
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