Victoria mayor calls on leaders to pitch tents on Parliament Hill
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Monday, July 27, 2015 4:11PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 28, 2015 10:09AM PDT
Victoria’s mayor is ready to roll out her sleeping bag and take her fight for affordable housing to Ottawa in the lead-up to the federal election.
Lisa Helps took to Twitter Monday to call on fellow mayors all over the country – including Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, Toronto’s John Tory and Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson – asking them to tent on Parliament Hill in protest over what she calls a lack of adequate funding for homelessness.
The proposal stems from a controversy swirling around a temporary tenting area proposed for the southwest corner of Victoria’s Topaz Park.
City Hall identified the park as the most favourable to host the tent city, which it said would help reduce the number of people sleeping on Victoria streets.
Residents held a rally at the park over the weekend over concern the camp would draw additional crime into the area.
“Our message is not ‘Not in our backyard,’” said Christopher Gordon, who said he lives 150 feet away from the site. “Our message is about the spillover that happens that won’t be managed.”
Helps has been urging residents to remain compassionate and patient with the proposal, and said the city is in a dilemma because there isn’t enough housing for the city’s homeless.
In a video statement issued via YouTube, Helps reiterated to residents that the city will be managed and secured by a service partner just like any of the city’s other shelters.
She also hammered the federal government for not stepping up to create more affordable housing in Victoria and other cities across the country.
“I’m going to be banging my fist and insisting that the federal government step up and help us as partners, because in the 21st century, in a first-world country, no city should be talking about having a temporary tenting area,” she said.
According to The Homeless Hub, a research network for homelessness in Canada, while the country’s population has increased by about 30 per cent in the last 25 years, annual national investment in housing has decreased by over 46 per cent.
In that same period, federal spending on low-income housing dropped from $115 to $60 per person, according to the network.
Responses to Helps’ callout have so far appeared cautious. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson lauded her for drawing focus to the homelessness issue and said he wouldn’t rule out the idea.
“Mayors across the country have been calling for affordable housing and homelessness to be in the federal election agenda,” he said. “They’ve cut funding for many years, so I think we need to keep cranking up the attention on affordable housing across the country. Mayors need to step up and make sure our voices are heard on this for our cities.”
Other civic leaders showed support for Helps’ idea on Twitter, but stopped short of pledging to campout at Parliament Hill.
Meanwhile, the federal government says help is available for the willing.
“There’s very few more-than-single occupancy affordable housing units that are being built these days,” said Minister of State John Duncan. “That is all happening in communities that are welcoming it.”
Helps said she’ll attend Topaz Park Thursday at 7 p.m. to go on a walkabout of the proposed camp site and to hear concerns and ideas from residents.
Canadians are set to vote in the next federal election on Oct. 19.
With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Scott Cunningham