A Topaz Park Tent City Primer

As your local resident Council meeting live-tweeter and blogger I’ve observed the entire jumbled City process that has been, hey ok, we’ve got a bunch of folks sleeping in parks that costs us a lot of money to deal with so let’s do something. To assist with this issue moving forward, I have cobbled together relevant blog posts to create an easy reading summary of the issue to date.

Enjoy! Sorry I won’t be there to tweet tomorrow

2015-18 Council Strategic Planning

Here is a summary article that I created of the strategic planning process which kicked off back in early February of this year. It is important to check out because it represents the origins of Mayor Help’s and her council’s commitment to helping the homeless and other marginalized folks. Related to this, I did an in-depth review of Objective 5 and Objective 7 for their overwhelming focus on actions specific to helping folks needing homes or needing help staying in homes.

Here is the final strategic plan for context.

I highly suggest that you become intimately familiar with this plan because it is going to dictate all council priorities coming forward. For more on this, check out my meeting summary for the June 4th GPC where this discussion occurred and older guard Councillors expressed their surprise for such a trend.

One final thing to note about the strategic plan, is that nowhere within it does it actually specify a commitment to things like Tent Cities and micro-homes. There is just a lot of generic language about ending homelessness. So something to think about.

March 26 Governance and Priorities Committee

This is the first time issues related to possible use of Topaz Park as a tent city emerged on the City council committee agenda. A general intro to the first time the agenda item entitled Use of Parks & Green Spaces for Overnight Shelter appeared is found in my Early Thoughts article for this meeting. Mind you, there is no corresponding observations in my Summary and Observations article because as noted in the video for this meeting, the issue got pulled from the agenda because the report was not complete in time.

April 2 Governance and Priorities Committee

This is the first time the sheltering in parks issue actually got discussed at the committee table. Check out my blog Early Thoughts for context and agenda attachments, and my Summary post for a discussion on how the issue got addressed by Council. Finally, I suggest you check out minutes for this section of the meeting (see pages 2-9) and meeting video is here (also posted below):

Of primary note, is that decisions made related to this issue, resulted in the following motion (shown below) moving forward to Council for consideration on April 16th. There was also talk as led by Ben Isitt of perhaps  perhaps banning sheltering in specific parks but this didn’t really lead anywhere.

April 16th Council Meeting

Council as part of their approval of reports from committee (available here) considered the following recommendation:

Use of Parks & Green Spaces for Overnight Shelter

1. That Council

  • Re-affirm the City’s commitment to a Housing First strategy, partnering with the federal and provincial governments and housing providers to increase the supply of new housing with supports to reduce and eliminate homelessness, and;
  • That the City continues to take on an active advocacy role in pushing the provincial and federal governments to fulfil their duty to adequately fund housing, mental health and addiction services, in the region;

2. Direct staff to report on a priority basis on options for increasing the supply of temporary shelter and housing in the city, including micro-housing options, based on best practices in other communities, to provide alternatives in the near-term to unregulated, overnight shelter, including working with the province to increase the number of shelters beds to 260 year round.

Underling mine

Video of their consideration of this motion is here.

As shown in the minutes and as demonstrated in my blog summary for that evening where I don’t even mention it, and the minutes for the meeting (top of page 14) this motion was approved without Council discussion.

April 23 Governance & Priorities Committee

As noted in my early thoughts for this meeting, the purpose of the discussion was to pick up on efforts from Isitt to ban camping in particular parks, specifically:

In preparation for this meeting, I actually went for a tour of these four parks plus the others including Topaz park that had been listed in the original staff report just so that I knew what the parks looked like. Going on this bike tour was actually my first time to Topaz. As you’ll see in my meeting summary however, you’ll see that this issue was pulled from the agenda and was then never picked up again.

May 21 Governance & Priorities Committee

As noted in my meeting Early Thoughts blog post this was just an short report to say that staff were still working on the issue.

June 4 Governance & Priorities Committee

This is where we had the Council direction from April 16th come back to Council in their committee format in the shape of the Housing Action Plan. You can a find a brief summary in my Early Thoughts (with all agenda attachments and reports linked for convenience) for that meetings and a summary of the discussion in my Summary and Observations post. Here also is the video of committee discussion on the issue and its many forms:

As noted in the minutes for this meeting (see pages 15-17) – there was a lot of praise and a lot of back and forth between Council on the issue. The need for public consultation is also clearly documented as a main point of committee concern, mind you, no specific motions related to such consultation were made.

June 11th Council Meeting

Up for decision that night were recommendations from the June 4th GPC to (see reports from committees page 2):

 Action Plan for Housing Supports and City Services for Sheltering in City Parks:

that Council approve:
1. The Action Plan for Housing Supports and City Services for Homeless People Sheltering in City Parks outlined in Appendix A of the report dated May 27, 2015, with the following amendment:
a. Appendix A: Advocacy for Permanent Housing & Supports

1.a. Increase the supply of emergency shelter spaces in the region: Recommendation:
Support Cool Aid Society in seeking $112,000 in funding to open 40 adult emergency mats and/or rent supplements between May and October.

  1. A requirement that facilitating the actions outlined in Appendix A include specific outreach to current and potential residents, and;
  2. Additional operating funding of up to $350,000 from 2015 contingencies to support specific Action Plan initiatives, subject to final approval by the City Manager.

In relation to the Housing Action Plan that had been approved.

And if you look at meeting minutes (see page 13) you’ll actually see that Council inquired about the status of public input related to the Housing Action plan (mentioned but not put in action on June 4th) and were told by staff that nothing had happened yet. Interesting eh.

If you check out my blog summary, you will see that Council also tried to adopt their Housing Action Plan but were unable to because they lacked quorum.

The head of the Greater Victoria Coalition to end homelessness appeared before Council to caution them about their Housing Action Plan of which designated sheltering is a key component.

I was intrigued.

July 9th Council Meeting

Council finally had quorum and finally adopted the Housing Action Plan (agenda here) as part of their Unfinished Business (see page 12-13 in minutes).

July 16th Governance & Priorities Committee

If you look at my blog summary of the Status Report – Action Plan for Housing, Supports & City Services issue presented at this meeting (video here), you will find that I got frustrated with the unfocused discussion and specifically the lack of Council’s ability to put into motion a requirement for any designated tenting area to be only a pilot project pending evaluation of success of any housing efforts.

If you look at the staff report that formed the basis of the presentation and discussion on the issue, the following chunk of text is all you find related to Topaz Park (see middle of page 4):

  1. At this point in time, the southwest corner of Topaz Park appears to have the greatest potential due to the presence of tennis courts that are currently closed, nearby washrooms, distance from residential areas and the proximity to transit as well as access to the downtown and services.

There was nothing confirming that Topaz Park would be the location of a designated sheltering site

July 23 Council Meeting

It was here that Council approved the lengthy motion associated with the update to the Housing Action Plan and staff report that identified Topaz Park as a possible location for designated sheltering  (video here agenda here). It is also here though that we have to note that the actual motion on record is (see bullet C under item 2 on page 2 of the report from GPC) doesn’t include an actual mention of Topaz Park:

That Council: 

1. Receive the July 10, 2015 Status Report – Action Plan for Housing, Supports and City Services for Sheltering in City Parks; and 

2. Approve the following Action Plan recommendations:

a. Temporary Housing Initiative

2(a) – Increase Emergency Shelter Spaces i. Adjust the City’s advocacy focus as follows:

  • Request the Province of British Columbia and BC Housing to provide more funding for rent supplements in the City of Victoria to secure permanent housing for people currently housed in emergency shelters or transitional/supportive housing.

b. Temporary Housing Initiative 2(b) – Clarifying Roles in Micro-Housing i. The City’s role in the development of a micro-housing village is to: 

  • Advise on land use, building construction and fire safety regulations; 
  • Advise on municipal servicing requirements and community standards; 
  • Process any required applications for land use, building construction or site preparation approvals; 
  • Consider any applications for financial support in relation to the development or implementation of the village; and 
  • Consider entering into agreements to enable the operation of the village. ii. Micro-Housing Victoria’s Role in developing a micro-housing village is to: 
  • Build a community of interest and organizational capacity to support the village project; 
  • Develop site plans, housing unit plans and site servicing plans; 
  • Develop operational rules and procedures for the village; 
  • Identify and acquire a site for the micro-housing village; 
  • Apply for land use, building construction or site servicing approvals; 
  • Engage in community consultation to support the project, including required CALUC consultations respecting any land use applications; 
  • Acquire the necessary funding to support the development and operation of the village; and 
  • • Operate the village in accordance with Micro-Housing Victoria’s rules and procedures, and any agreements with the City or other parties. 

c. Temporary Housing Initiative 2(c) – A Designated Sheltering Site in a Park

i. The City’s approach to establish a designated sheltering area in a park is to: 

  • Seek a service partner who will manage the operation of the site;
  • Develop a service model and budget with the service partner; 
  • Confirm the site location and seek public input on the proposed service model and location; 
  • Seek final approval of the service model budget from Council. 

d. Operational Initiative 1 – Storage Project for Homeless Persons’ Belongings 

i. The City’s approach to establishing a storage facility is to: 

  • Continue to work cooperatively with interested service partners to establish the facility in September 2015; and 
  • Initiate a proposal call if there is no substantive progress achieved by September 2015.

If you check out my blog summary of the discussion, you’ll only really find note of my mentioning Councillor Young’s lecture of to Councillor Isitt for the assumption that providing a designated camping site will reduce camping elsewhere.

So Where Do We Go Now?

As I’m sure you’ve all seen, this is the notice of motion for tomorrow:

  • BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council directs staff to consult the public on options for all forms of sheltering before Council considers any proposal for a designated tenting area or tent city in any park.
  • BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Council requests that staff consider forming a time-limited working group of up to 12 people to receive advice on implementation of the Action Plan on Housing Supports and City Services for Sheltering in City Parks, engaging street-involved people, neighbourhood representatives and people with expertise in the fields of social services, housing and community development.

And because it is on the agenda as a Notice of Motion and not a motion proper, I’m inclined to think that the actual purpose of the report from Mayor Helps and Isitt is just to get the same report on the next actual Council agenda for August 27th. But I’m really not sure, and if my post is meant to demonstrate anything its just that the entire process related to the larger issue of sheltering in parks has been really really poorly managed both by staff and council.

So good luck tomorrow!

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