Tent city protest leads to crowd-sourced plan

Tent city protest leads to crowd-sourced plan

Members of city council, in collaboration with the residents, have drafted a motion calling for more public consultation to be done

Members of city council, in collaboration with the residents, have drafted a motion calling for more public consultation to be done before council moves forward with any proposals to house the city’s homeless.

On Thursday (July 30), hundreds of residents attended the walkabout at Topaz Park to voice their opinions to Mayor Lisa Helps and councillor Ben Isitt about the proposal to establish a temporary tent city for the homeless in the park.

Dozens of people came forward to speak.

Resident Frankie Chao has a three-year-old son who plays in the park daily. He said he’s worried kids and dogs could be injured from needles left on the ground.

“The safety must be the most important issue,” he said.

Graeme Verhulst said homelessness is a federal and provincial issue and that the city should consider other options while they wait for long-term solutions to be put into motion.

“While this idea of a temporary tent city has sparked so much controversy, it comes from a recognition that long-term solutions are going to take time to build,” he said. “People are suffering now, how can we deal with that now, while we’re also moving forward with long-term solutions.”

After roughly two-and-a-half hours of consultation, the crowd helped draft the motion.

“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been involved in. Ben and I were working hard to listen and create a motion that we could bring to city council,” Helps said.

“People obviously came with so much anger and so much frustration and after two hours of what felt like good dialogue, we quite literally came up with a motion together with the public.”

The motion reads “that we direct staff to consult the public on options for all forms of sheltering before council considers any proposal for a designated tenting area or tent city in any park.”

It also asks staff to consider forming a time-limited working group of roughly a dozen people to engage with the homeless, neighbourhood representatives and experts in social services, housing and community development.

The motion will be put forward at a special council meeting today (Aug. 5)

Isitt believes it is “quite likely” the motion will pass.

“The message that came through loud and clear is that the public wants the city to explore options other than tenting in our parks,” Isitt said. “Philosophically, I agree with that. I hope we can find a way to muster sufficient resources to build proper homes for everyone. If that falls short, I think we can’t rule out more interim measures.”

The idea to set up a tent city for the homeless in Topaz Park has sparked immense backlash since news broke two weeks ago. Helps has apologized for how the plan was rolled out and noted the proposal in Topaz Park is currently “on pause.”

The city is also hosting a Workshop on Sheltering at City Hall on Wednesday, Sept 16 after the summer break from 5-7 p.m.