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 Old systems, including outdated practices within labour's ranks and "me first" thinking among workers who enjoy the benefits of union protection, need to be relegated to the dustbin of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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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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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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City Councillors, UVic students host town hall on municipal investments

Ethical investing

January 12, 2015

VICTORIA, BC — Victoria city councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday and the University of Victoria Students' Society are partnering to host a town hall meeting on municipal investments. Inspired by the divestment movement urging more ethical investments by public institutions, the town hall "Our Dollars, Our Future" is taking place on Tuesday January 13 at 7:00 pm at the Downtown Community Centre, 755 Pandora Avenue, in Victoria.

"We believe it's important to invest the public's money in enterprises that advance, rather than undermine, social justice and the environment," says Ben Isitt, the Victoria City Councillor who is co-hosting the event with Councillor Jeremy Loveday and the University of Victoria Students' Society. "We are inviting the public to attend this free event to learn more about the movement for responsible investing by public institutions and examine how investments in fossil fuels, genetically modified crops and the military-industrial complex may not be the best place to invest public dollars."

Speakers at the Town Hall include Kelsey Mech, chairperson of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, Nathalie Chambers of the Farmland Protection Coalition, and peace activist and former Green Party leader Joan Russow.

"With the urgency of climate change, both as an environmental and social justice issue, we can no longer continue to invest in the fossil fuel industries which are creating an unlivable future for all of us," says Mech, a former chairperson of the University of Victoria Students' Society. "When large institutions and municipalities, like the City of Victoria, choose to divest it sends a clear message that fossil fuel industries no longer have the social license they require to operate and it helps to create the initiative needed for a transition to a clean and just energy economy."

Currently, the City of Victoria's capital reserves of $120-million and short-term assets are invested in pooled portfolios administered by the Municipal Finance Authority and a contracted fund manager Philips, Hager & North Ltd. This complex arrangement, combined with restrictions on the discretion of municipalities in the Municipal Finance Authority Act, has limited the City's ability to pursue Socially Responsible Investments as mandated by the City of Victoria Investment Policy.

"I’ve heard from many members of the public that they would like their dollars to be invested responsibly," says Councillor Jeremy Loveday. "Other cities and public institutions are moving towards strong and enforceable ethical investment policies. We are starting to have that conversation here in Victoria."

Councillors Loveday and Isitt are exploring alternatives to the current approach to municipal investing and invite all members of the public to join in the discussion at the Town Hall on January 13.

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The right to a healthy environment

Meeting to discusss right to a healthy enviromment

The right to a healthy environment should be recognized by all levels of government as a basic human right.

Earlier this fall, a 10-year-old Fernwood resident named Rupert contacted municipal candidates, proposing that Victoria adopt a declaration recognizing the right to a healthy environment. Rupert was inspired by Dr. David Suzuki's Blue Dot Tour.

Since the November election, my new colleague Councillor Jeremy Loveday has taken up Rupert's request. He is proposing in a motion this week that Victoria become the first jurisdiction on Vancouver Island to recognize environmental rights. Mayor Lisa Helps and I have endorsed Councillor Loveday's report on the right to a healthy environment.

If you believe that environmental rights should be recognized in the City of Victoria and beyond, please take a few minutes to support Rupert's request. You can send a short email to council members (councillors@victoria.ca), attend a rally that Rupert is organizing with his family, and register to address City Council with Rupert on Thursday.

Thank you for your commitment to a healthy environment and for participating in our local democracy.

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Oath of Office

Inaugural council meeting

As a Canadian and British citizen, I think democracy works best when it flows from the bottom up, firmly rooted in a mandate from the people with unwavering respect for human rights. That is why I declined to take a voluntary Oath of Allegiance to the British monarch and her unborn successors when I was first elected to public office in 2011 and when I was sworn in for a second term as a City Councillor yesterday.

As a historian, I know that imperialism by Britain and other European states has caused tremendous suffering and dislocation for indigenous people, here on Vancouver Island and around the world, including the families of many friends. The impacts of the ongoing processes of imperialism and colonization continue to hold back our communities. This is not an indictment of Elizabeth II as an individual, but of the system her family currently symbolizes.

I therefore believe it is appropriate for municipal officials to focus on the mandatory Oath of Office required under provincial law, pledging to work for the betterment of our community and in accordance with the law and the highest standards of integrity. Thank you Mayor Lisa Helps and fellow Councillors Marianne Alto and Jeremy Loveday for affirming that our highest loyalty is to the people we are elected to serve.

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Our Victory

Ben Isitt on Election night

I want to express my heart-felt appreciation to you and everyone who made our unprecedented election victory possible.

I am humbled by the results.

We made history — topping the polls with several thousand more votes than any other candidate for municipal office has ever received in the City of Victoria — more than 14,700 votes.

Our support extends to every corner of the community — with an inspiring and determined “ground campaign” that saw our volunteers knock on every door in Victoria nearly two times over, and more than 500 residents who proclaimed their support “for people and the planet” by proudly displaying a lawn sign in front of their home.

I owe this victory to you, and to my family and friends who’ve supported me.

Now, we must continue to work together to ensure that social justice, ecological responsibility and good government are applied to every decision at Victoria City Hall and the Capital Regional District.

We have a new mayor, new councillors and new regional directors. I am committed to working with them and continuing to stand up for the principles we all believe in. Your ongoing role as an active, engaged citizen is essential to building a community and world we can be proud of.

Thank you!

Ben

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