Victoria mayor files motion to fast track social services and shelters across city

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Pandora Street is seen in drone footage.

Victoria’s Mayor Marianne Alto calls it “bold action” that could help address the homelessness crisis the capital city is facing.

“We’re all grappling with how to deal with this,” said Alto.

On Thursday, Alto will be putting forward a motion that would allow social services and shelters to pop up anywhere in the city.

“These are our people. They’re our residents and these are issues we can try to help with at least in the short term,” said Alto, acknowledging this is an interim fix before the city’s Official Community Plan (OCP) is brought forward by staff in early 2025.

In the meantime, Alto is zeroing in on zoning, calling on council to consider removing what can be a lengthy land-use approval process for social services. If the right location, funding, operator, and agreement come forward, the city can seize the moment without having to jump through the usual hoops, including seeking public feedback.

“I don’t anticipate that perfect opportunity will arise, but I want to make sure that if it should, we should act on it,” said Alto.

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The president of the Downtown Neighbourhood Association approves the move.

“If that helps to alleviate some of the pressure and the misery on Pandora, that is such a good thing. We need it,” said Sandra Severs.

Coun. Stephen Hammond, who’s been critical in the past when social services disrupt communities, is cautiously optimistic.

“I’m certainly open to trying things that’ll work better,” said Hammond. “But there’s still a lot more that needs to be discussed and we’ll find out more Thursday.”

The motion comes with strict requirements:

  • Overnight shelter spaces be limited to 50;
  • Social service centres be located at least 100 metres away from each other;
  • Be kept and maintained in a manner that minimizes impacts on its neighbouring community;
  • Not causing nuisance in the neighbouring community.

“Where’s the bar on what we consider a nuisance?” asked Hammond.

Councillors will begin ironing out the details on Thursday.

If the motion is successful, the changes could come into effect within a month, and Alto already predicts other municipalities will follow suit.

Kori Sidaway

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