09/20/2015 03:53 EDT | Updated 09/20/2015 04:59 EDT

Victoria Homeless Paid $20 'Consulting Fee' To Attend City Meeting

The mayor of Victoria, B.C. is defending a decision to pay $20 each to nearly 400 homeless people to participate in a meeting on housing options.

Mayor Lisa Helps compared the payout to consulting fees, telling the Times-Colonist: "We pay consultants all the time and usually we pay consultants $150 to $200 an hour. These are the least-expensive consultants we’ve ever hired and when they showed up they had already done their research."

The city held the public event at Crystal Garden on Wednesday to gauge ideas and opinions on temporary housing. Roughly 365 people showed up, which cost about $7,300. The money was drawn from $350,000 the city has already set aside to study the issue, said Global News.

Helps told the outlet that staff had to make multiple trips to the bank for cash.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young told the Times-Colonist that he felt it was not a good use of money, pointing out the proposals he saw at the meeting had already been passed over by the city.

The homeless population in Victoria — with its mild climate and laid-back lifestyle — has climbed to an estimated 1,000. A Supreme Court decision in 2008 paved the way for allowing homeless people to sleep overnight in city parks if shelters are full.

Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation called the $20 stipend a "bizarre story." He told CTV News that since the city already knows where homeless people are located, officials could "go get this expert advice from them for free."

In an editorial published on Saturday, the Times-Colonist said:

The issue is about providing the homeless with shelter and support. Surely, they should care enough to participate in discussions about their own futures. It would have been appropriate to provide coffee and sandwiches at the meeting, but not cash payments.

Public input is vital, but that input should be freely given, not purchased.

But Don Evans, the executive director of downtown drop-in centre Our Place, said he proposed the $20 payment as a way to attract the people who are actually struggling without shelter. He and the mayor both said it was money well spent for the productive turnout.

City council voted 8-1 this week to move forward on a $50-million request to tackle homelessness in the region. The proposal includes building 367 units for homeless people — by charging each household $11 for 15 years.

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