CBC Radio Interview: For a Regional Housing First Strategy

Listen to this interview on CBC Radio On the Island from September 15, 2015, where Ben discusses the proposed Regional Housing First Strategy, aimed at eliminating homelessness in the Capital Region through a regional social housing program at a cost of $11 per household per year.

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Victoria mayor, councillors propose regional funding plan to end homelessness

September 15, 2015

VICTORIA, BC — Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday are proposing a regional funding plan to end homelessness, levying $11 per household per year through the Capital Regional Hospital District to end homelessness by 2018.

"Housing is not something that municipalities should take on," says Mayor Lisa Helps, who also serves as the co-chair of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. "But in the absence of leadership from the federal government, residents of the region can no longer sit by as people — particularly those with mental health and addictions issues — suffer on our streets. Enough talk. Now is the time for action."

The proposal for the Regional Housing First Strategy, which Victoria City Council will debate on Thursday, proposes that the Capital Regional Hospital District serve as the lead agency, in partnership with social service providers and local, provincial and federal authorities, to build 367 units of new housing with supports, which the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness estimates to be the number of chronic shelter users requiring housing.

"We believe that this investment by the region would substantially improve health outcomes for people who are chronically homeless," says Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt. "A regional housing first strategy would have the added benefit of reducing the impacts of homelessness and outdoor sheltering on the wider community and providing an opportunity for cost-savings on provincial hospitalization, criminal justice and incarceration costs, and municipal policing, parks and street maintenance costs."

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For a Regional Housing First Strategy

Controversy over the possibility of a designated temporary tenting area in the City of Victoria has prompted a healthy dialogue over how best to respond to the homelessness emergency in our region.

Issues relating to people seeking shelter in parks and alleyways is not new, reflecting provincial, national and international trends, including: changes within the Canadian economy and labour force; a retreat by all levels of government from necessary supports for people in need, including health, housing and income supports; deinstitutionalization in mental health; and addiction issues in the absence of harm reduction and treatment services.

The City of Victoria faces the impact of these forces and since 2009 has been mandated by the BC Court of Appeal to permit overnight sheltering in city parks for people who lack adequate alternate shelter. This has resulted in growing numbers of people seeking shelter in parks, including small neighbourhood parks that lack sanitation, security, and support services, and require people who are homeless to break camp each morning and relocate with their belongings.

Victoria City Council has responded by recommitting to a “Housing First” strategy and quadrupling the annual contribution to affordable housing, while also directing staff to explore options for interim sheltering to improve the situation for people sleeping in parks as well as reduce impacts on the broader community. Two pilot projects are being explored: (1) a designated temporary tenting area or areas; (2) a micro-housing village modeled on examples in the Pacific Northwest.

City Council has heard loud and clear that many members of the public believe investment in long-term supportive housing is preferable to interim measures such as temporary tenting areas. As a result, I have developed a proposal with Councillor Jeremy Loveday, Mayor Lisa Helps, Capital Regional Hospital District Chair Dave Howe and other colleagues for a Regional Housing First Strategy.

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Happy Labour Day

Is there still power in the union? Yes, particularly when unions move beyond a narrow defence of members' interests to embrace "social unionism" in the broadest and historic sense — providing leadership for communities and a world grounded in respect for human rights and ecology, rather than the distortions and exploitations of the capitalist profit motive. Old systems, including outdated practices within labour's ranks and "me first" thinking among workers who enjoy the benefits of union protection, need to be relegated to the dustbin of history, providing the organized working class with the legitimacy to lead social movements for change here and everywhere.  Billy Bragg would agree. :) Happy Labour Day!

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Overnight sheltering in Topaz Park

Topaz Park

Responses by Councillor Ben Isitt to Questions submitted by the Hillside-Quadra Neighbourhood Action Group and Quadra Village Community Centre / Downtown-Blanshard Advisory Committee


*** PLEASE NOTE: Members of the public are encouraged to participate in a Sheltering Solutions Workshop taking place on WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 16 at 6:30 at the Crystal Garden, 713 Douglas Street, to provide input and ideas on how we can best respond to overnight sheltering in our community.



(1) What, concretely, is the City aiming to achieve by permitting long-term camping at Topaz?

The city is not considering permitting long-term camping in Topaz Park. City Council has confirmed its commitment to a “housing first” strategy, advocating to senior levels of government and working with partner agencies to build long-term housing with supports for people currently sheltering in parks.

The City is considering establishing a temporary tenting area in the south-west corner of Topaz Park as an interim measure to respond to the dozens of unauthorized tenting areas in City parks, including Topaz, which reflects the BC Court of Appeal decision that a person has a right to shelter themselves in a park in the absence of sufficient shelter opportunities.

(2) Is the main objective to reduce unregulated tenting in other city parks?

The main objective is to improve the conditions for people who currently rely on overnight sheltering in dozens of City parks, including Topaz, as well as smaller parks where there are no sanitation facilities. A secondary objective is to reduce the impact of unregulated overnight sheltering in all City parks, including Topaz, by ensuring that sheltering takes places away from sensitive ecosystems; that people seeking shelter have access to proper sanitation facilities; that adequate supervision and access to social services exists; that options are provided for the storage of personal belongings; and that noise and other impacts are addressed by providing a buffer space between the sheltering area and residential properties.

(3) If that is not the objective, then what is?

Please see the response above.

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Six months in review

Community bike ride

Six months into the term of the current City Council, I’m happy to report progress toward social justice and environmental responsibility in a number of areas.

The city’s recently adopted Strategic Plan and Budget include a strong commitment to Affordable Housing – including a quadrupling of funds for the Housing Reserve. City Council has also formed a Housing Affordability Task Force to identify municipal tools to increase the supply of low-cost housing for workers earning minimum wage and seniors on fixed incomes.

Alongside housing policy, the Strategic Plan reaffirms support for supervised consumption services and increased treatment beds to reduce harm from addictions. We now need the provincial government and Island Health to step up with multi-year operating funds for these necessary health services.

In terms of community services, the 2015 Budget increases funding for community centres and seniors centres by 25%, with provision for cost-of-living increases in future years, and new funding to the Downtown Community Centre.

On environmental policy, the city has committed $7.75-million in gas tax money toward the completion of an “all-ages and abilities” cycling network. This means a network of quiet neighbourhood bikeways and protected bike lanes on busier roads to ensure a child that is 8 years old, or a senior citizen who is 80 years old, can travel safely wherever they need to go in the city.

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Power to the people in Alberta in everywhere!

CCF Calgary conference, August 1932 

Somewhere over the Rockies and prairies, the spirits of Bill Irvine, Sarah Knight, Louise McKinney, Elmer Roper, Grant Notley and other socialist pioneers in Canada's wild rose province are smiling. It's been a long road since 1932 when the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Farmer-Labor-Socialist) was founded in Calgary, during the reign of the allied United Farmers government. Power to the people in Alberta and everywhere!

Alberta orange crush party in Victoria


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Building a better city - have your say!

Victoria photo

The City of Victoria is currently consulting residents on the 2015 Budget and 2015-2018 Strategic Plan. This plan will shape how the city spends more than $800-million over the next four years. So your input is crucial.

  • Do you want more and better bike lanes or less action on active transportation?
  • Are you satisfied with the city's current support for affordable housing or should we do more?
  • Is the park system and recreational facilities like the Crystal Pool adequate, or can improvements be made and new parks created?
  • How much tax are your prepared to pay for high-quality public services and support to community and arts organizations?

These are all part of the draft Strategic Plan and Budget. Your input will shape the path the City takes in the years ahead.

So please get involved in the consultation process. A key date to mark on your calendar is the Town Hall meeting on Monday March 23 at 7:00 pm at Victoria City Hall. This is your chance to share your priorities directly with City Council.

Input can also be provided online at www.Victoria.ca/budget.

I look forward to hearing from you and working with you to take action on your priorities for building a better city.

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Protecting forests and farmland from urban sprawl

Enjoying a hike in the Sooke Hills. Protecting wilderness areas is a big benefit of urban containment.

Right now, the Capital Regional District (CRD) is consulting residents on the Regional Sustainability Strategy (RSS), to guide land use decisions from the Saanich Peninsula to Victoria to Port Renfrew on the west coast.

The RSS will either strengthen the policy of urban containment, mandating that new housing and development be concentrated in existing population centres, or it will provide a green light to urban sprawl, extending pavement and development into the wilderness areas and farmland of the capital region.

I strongly support a policy of urban containment.

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Partnership formed to acquire Grace Islet

Grace Islet July 12 2014

I want to thank First Nations and non-indigenous allies for their leadership demanding the protection of Grace Islet, and to the Government of British Columbia for doing the right thing and acquiring the islet in trust for First Nations. This is the beginning of a process to restore the islet and cemetery, remove the building and honour the ancestors, and also the beginning of a broader process to improve development approval procedures and amend provincial legislation in order to protect sacred sites across the capital region and the province. 

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