Newsletter #6 and Letters to Council

A new week, a new newsletter, and same old Council shenanigans.

PK Newsletter, Issue #6

We’ve started posting our newsletters online as PDF files for anyone who wants to read them. In this week’s issue:

  • Updated Bylaw sheltering stats
  • News on specific sheltering sites: Central/RAP, McKenzie & Pat Bay, MEEGAN, and windstorm impacts
  • Update on indoor options (no big news)
  • What’s the City up to? (recent/upcoming Council meetings, the public feedback on the draft budget – divest from police, invest in communities!)
  • COVID Prevention Dialogue Sessions and Vaccine Roll-Out Working Group
  • Survival service updates
  • Rad Babey advice column: How do I respectfully make contact with someone living in a tent when there’s no open flap and I’m not sure if someone’s inside?

We are not doing email subscriptions. If you want to read the newsletter, you can subscribe to this blog and look for links here; or you can check out our Google Drive folder where a new issue will be uploaded each week.

hey council, stop being shitty!

In the upcoming week ‘victoria’ city council is considering a bunch of motions relating to sheltering in parks. These include potential further restrictions on where people can shelter (to be debated by Council on Thursday Jan 21), and adding more money to the police budget to have 2 officers patrolling in parks 4 hours a day, 7 days a week (to be discussed by council on Monday January 25). We go into more details in this week’s issue of our newsletter.

To email Council: mayor@victoria.ca, malto@victoria.ca, stephen.andrew@victoria.ca, sdubow@victoria.ca, bisitt@victoria.ca, jloveday@victoria.ca, spotts@victoria.ca, cthornton-joe@victoria.ca, gyoung@victoria.ca

They get a ton of emails so it’s useful to make the subject line clear what your position is, e.g., “Don’t increase funding to the VicPD for policing poverty”, or “Don’t further restrict where people can shelter”.

Sample points about the cop budget request:

  • The VicPD is requesting $75,960 from January 1 to March 31, 2021, to have 2 VicPD officers deployed for four hours every day policing people who are sheltering in parks.
  • Policing doesn’t solve homelessness.
  • Targeting a specific population contributes not only to criminalization of people who are homeless but also to public stigma, fear, stereotyping, and hatred.
  • The public input process on next year’s budget was clear: 75% of people who emailed asked Council to freeze VicPD’s funding and redirect funds to affordable housing and outreach services, and the most essential priority for Council in the budget survey was “supports vulnerable populations”. People want Council to support those living outside, not surveil and punish.
  • The VicPD’s overtime has increased exponentially over the past couple years. It’s time for police to stop making money off policing poverty.

Sample points about the proposed Bylaw changes that would further reduce where people can shelter:

  • Staff are recommending that Council make further changes to the Parks Regulations Bylaw to “prohibit sheltering within parks in areas with high-risk of flooding or other environmental hazards, and add Central Park to the list of parks where sheltering is prohibited.”
  • Living outside in wet, cold, windy weather is terrible. Many parks have some areas that flood after heavy rainstorms, are at risk of tree branches falling in high windstorms, or are exposed spaces with no protection from wind. But the solution isn’t more rules that result in Bylaw officers and police chasing people around from site to site and confining people to ever-shrinking areas. Instead the City should work constructively with people who are sheltering outside to identify the most liveable sites, and find out what infrastructure would be needed to make it safer and more viable for people to live at those sites.
  • People who live outside are the best experts on what sites will work for them, but the City hasn’t consulted them as part of its decision-making. It’s patronizing and paternalistic to think the City knows best about what’s safest. If the City really cared about people’s safety it would be making sure people have access to basic survival needs.
  • Central Park should stay on the list of permissible sites. While nobody can live in a flooded area, and Central was unliveable during the floods in late December, Central isn’t flooded most of the year which is why people choose it as a sheltering location. It’s also one of the only remaining parks close to downtown and is on a route where buses run frequently. In drier seasons there’s no reason why people can’t live at Central.
  • There are other possible solutions that wouldn’t require permanent bans. For example the City can put up signage in areas where flooding is a risk so people can make informed decisions about whether to risk sheltering there. The City can also allow people to set up tent platforms and other structures that would help elevate off soggy ground, instead of waiting for a flood to allow platforms.
  • If the City’s going to use subjective criteria, there needs to be total transparency about why an area is off-limits. For example the Parks bylaw already has provisions restricting sheltering in environmentally sensitive areas, but it’s not clear how the City determines whether an area is environmentally sensitive. In some parks the City has designated grassy areas used for picnics and other public use as too “environmentally sensitive” for people to shelter, which makes no sense.
  • With the City’s decision to seek a Court ruling on whether sheltering at MEEGAN is acceptable, it’s unclear what land base the City will have in future where sheltering is allowed. If there are sites that can no longer be used for sheltering, the City needs to provide other sites — with infrastructure such as 24/7 bathrooms, handwashing, and drinking water — that are viable alternatives rather than just providing a giant list of sites where people can’t camp.
Image of a black cat with white paws typing on a Mac laptop. The world would be infinitely better if cats ran things.

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