The latest footnote in the ongoing story of Victoria’s homeless population – and how the city is grappling with it – came at Crystal Garden on September 16.

Hundreds of homeless people gathered there to attend an open meeting on temporary housing options.

Approximately 365 people attended, and each were paid $20. All told, it cost the city about $7,300.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the money came out of a $350,000 budget city council created explicitly to examine the issue. She says the money was well worth it.

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“The city often hires consultants, to the tune of $100, $150 an hour. This is no different. These were consultants, with lived experience, and they had already done their field research by the time they got to the meeting,” she said.

Helps says the only thing she would do differently next time is have people sign up in advance, so they would know how many people were coming – and how much they would have to pay out. City staff had to go to banks multiple times in order to have enough cash on hand.

But otherwise, she has no regrets.

“The quality of input, and the kinds of ideas we got, simply would not have happened if we didn’t have so many people who were marginally housed show up. …all in all, I think it was a very good, and very modest expenditure.

But not everyone agrees.

“The number of people to whom we’ve paid the honorarium was far beyond the number required to get opinions,” said councillor Geoff Young.

“I believe the numbers were a surprise not just to me but the people organizing it.”

READ MORE: Victoria says homeless problem an increasing drain on budget

The city has seen an increase in the homeless population in the years since a Supreme Court ruling allowed people to sleep overnight in public parks without penalty.

A proposed tent city in Topaz Park was put on hold after fierce opposition from the local community.

Don Evans is executive director of Our Place, which runs drop-in centre downtown. He says it was his suggestion to offer a $20 honorarium.

“If there wouldn’t have been anything to attract people to go, then you may have got some of the regular people that are advocates – people that advocate hard for the homeless – but you wouldn’t have gotten the people that are actually living the experience every day and having to live with all the challenges,” he says.

“They were engaged, there was optimism, there was hope in the room, and these are people that don’t often feel very hopeful. To give them that voice was important. I’m glad that we were able to do that.”