The City’s approach to homelessness

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Homelessness is a very difficult topic. It’s tragic at an individual level, and a crisis at a societal level. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a humanitarian disaster.

So it’s vitally important that governments at all levels, non-profits, researchers, businesses and residents all make what contributions we can, individually and collectively, to address homelessness.

And to do that effectively, we need to share information and work to build a shared understanding of the causes of homelessness, and of the approaches being undertaken to address it.

I have seen and heard the suggestion that the City’s approach to addressing homelessness is to punish unhoused people by confiscating their possessions, and this is simply untrue.

Does the City have to deal with people’s possessions at times? Yes, unfortunately. The City has a responsibility to keep sidewalks clear and safe for people walking and people using wheelchairs and mobility devices (and this includes unhoused people). Having tents and tarps blocking sidewalks is unsafe. The City also owes it to all residents – housed and unhoused – to ensure that parks can be used by everyone.

There is no bylaw saying you can’t be on public spaces. There is a bylaw saying you can’t leave possessions on those spaces. It’s the same as a homeowner parking their car on the sidewalk – it’s not allowed.

So our Bylaw staff keep sidewalks and other public spaces from becoming blocked by asking people to remove their belongings. I have been there many times on Pandora and in parks and witnessed it.

When belongings have been left there, or when a person is present but unable or unwilling to move their items, the City removes them. The City carefully stores what items can be stored, and people can come and pick them up from storage. Sleeping bags and other items that are soaked or soiled and otherwise ruined cannot be stored for reasons of safety, mould, etc. Such items are disposed of – but again, only if they are abandoned or the owner can’t or won’t move them.*

This is not the City’s approach to homelessness. It is the City’s approach to possessions that are left on sidewalks and other public spaces.

The City’s approach to homelessness is quite different.

The City’s approach to homelessness is mentioned on the website at https://www.victoria.ca/community-culture/housing/homelessness-initiatives. That approach includes:

  • Approving more supportive housing than any other municipality in this region, and indeed more than all the others combined.
  • Partnering with provincial and regional governments to provide affordable housing.
  • Hiring a relocation and outreach coordination service this year, which has helped many people sheltering outdoors to move indoors to shelters and to supportive housing.
  • Bylaw changes to allow more rental housing to be built to increase the vacancy rate and reduce future entry into homelessness.
  • Supporting homelessness prevention programs.
  • Protecting tenants through implementation of the Tenant Assistance Policy.
  • Supporting organizations that work with people experiencing homelessness.
  • Most recently, seeking a partner organization to provide storage for possessions of people sheltering outdoors.

I have been pointing out frequently that much of this City work is temporary, stop-gap work, and that the Provincial Government has a comprehensive homelessness plan, called Belonging in BC. It addresses supportive housing, complex care housing, and encampments, including storage of personal items. The province is rolling out the Plan across BC, and I fully expect them to take over many of the things that the City has been doing.

I outline this info in order to help people to understand the reality of the City’s approach and the larger context so that we can all get more done, more effectively, and more quickly, on homelessness.

* I’ve written more about the impounding process: https://davethompsonvictoria.ca/bylaws-encampments-impounding-storage-etc/#more-965. That post also contains more links to related topics.

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