Attendees of a mayoral candidates forum on how to solve homelessness in Greater Victoria packed the First Metropolitan Church, Tuesday. (Kristyn Anthony/News staff)

Homelessness experts challenge Greater Victoria candidates on finding a fix

‘People are dying every week on our streets, and it’s not just the opioid crisis,’ Our Place executive director tells crowd of hundreds

A panel of local experts flipped the script on the region’s mayoral candidates Tuesday taking centre stage to share their ideas on how to solve the growing issue of poverty and homelessness in the Capital Region.

The event, “Solving homelessness with our region’s mayoral candidates” was hosted by Our Place Society and attended by hundreds of people who filled the First Metropolitan Church in Victoria.

Impassioned pleas from those in attendance challenged candidates on how they would take immediate action to house the more than 1,500 people experiencing homelessness in Greater Victoria.

Panelist Don Evans, executive director of Our Place, urged the candidates to work together immediately to build 40 to 50 temporary units of housing so people can “stabilize” and start to think about more long term options.

“People are dying every week on our streets,” Evans said, “and it’s not just the opioid crisis.”

People with mental health issues, brain trauma, financial struggles, health concerns, are “forced to be outside” where they “live in survival mode,” Evans said.

RELATED: Advance voting begins Oct. 10 in Greater Victoria

“All they need is some sort of adequate, affordable housing,” he said, before challenging municipalities to purchase land for modular housing. “The money is there. The missing link is the municipalities.”

Panelist Terry Willis, who is battling stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma and has been homeless for two years after losing his wife to cancer, asked candidates how they intend to help those in a situation similar to his.

“Unfortunately our system is a little flawed when it comes to people that get a disease that keeps them from continuing their life, working and raising their children and paying the rent,” Willis said.

RELATED: Victoria cancer patient denied chemo due to condition of homeless shelter

Representatives from Esquimalt, North Saanich, Saanich, Sidney, Victoria and View Royal answered questions from both the panelists and the public.

Tensions ran high when one attendee pointedly asked Saanich mayor Richard Atwell and Victoria candidate Stephen Hammond where residents of Camp Namegans, a homeless camp that has been forcibly removed from multiple sites in the region, will sleep after the Oct. 12 deadline at their current location.

There are parks where people are welcome to sleep overnight, Atwell said before being asked how the municipality would approach those who cannot or will not leave by the required 9 a.m. time limit.

“With the assistance of police,” Atwell said, to a crowd shouting “shame.”

RELATED: Saanich’s homeless camp ends, as residents plan rally Friday

Catherine Holt, CEO of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce told candidates the average person cannot afford the average house in Victoria anymore.

“Real estate is not housing,” she said, stressing creative solutions are a vital response to housing people, pointing to a recent bylaw in Portland, Oregon allowing for tiny homes on properties within the city.

Evans busted the myth that those experiencing homelessness want to stay near the downtown core, calling on candidates in North Saanich, Sidney and the West Shore to recognize this is a regional problem.

Mayor David Screech agreed calling the current state of affairs a symptom of “years of neglect” on the part of all 13 municipalities, before adding: “We need shelters on the West Shore.”


@kristyn_anthony
kristyn.anthony@blackpress.ca

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