Residents celebrate ban on overnight sheltering in four parks

Residents are celebrating now that Victoria city council has taken the initial steps to ban overnight sheltering in four parks.

Residents in several neighbourhoods are celebrating now that Victoria city council has taken the initial steps to ban overnight sheltering in four parks.

During a meeting last Thursday, council voted to ban overnight camping in Haegert, Kings, Cridge and Arbutus parks.

According to a report to council, the city received 81 responses from residents and property owners in the vicinity of the four parks, a majority of whom were in favour of prohibiting camping.

In the emails, residents expressed concern over noise disturbances, such as yelling, swearing and fighting, health concerns from feces, urine and syringes left in the park, reduced sense of security and an unwelcoming appearance of the park.

Fifteen people without homes, who have previously camped in parks, also provided feedback, adding the bylaw change wouldn’t affect too many homeless people as there are still other options for sheltering in the city, including other parks and five seasonal shelters.

Currently, overnight sheltering is permitted in city parks from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.

As the council liaison for Fernwood and downtown, Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said she’s received a “significant” amount of emails from residents regarding Haegart, Kings and Cridge parks.

“Parks are supposed to be so that all users feel comfortable using them and currently some of these that are listed no longer are being used for families, children, people with dogs, for even cutting through because of some of the issues,” she said.

However, some councillors expressed concern about the effect this will have on other city parks, if for example, the residents of tent city on the lawns of the courthouse are evicted in the future.

“I can support this but I do so fully recognizing that we will see applications from other neighbourhoods for other parks,” said Coun. Chris Coleman. “If we finally see a resolution to tent city, we will see a dispersion to other parks and we’ve taken four out of that. We will be asked to take more out and that just further aggregates or concentrates it in the number of parks remaining. That becomes the issue we have to deal with.”

The amendment has residents excited for things to return to normal in the neighbourhood.

“The whole neighbourhood looks forward to it. It will be a summer of peace and quiet,” said David Hillman, the captain of the street block watch in Fernwood, who lives less than a block away from Kings Park. “Things will return to normal.”

Mary, who did not want to publish her last name, lives next door to the same park and isn’t optimistic the ban will stop people from taking shelter in the parks.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” she said. “They’ve tried doing events out there, but that still didn’t keep them (campers) out. People would still come and drink themselves silly.”

Staff said there is no plan at this time to prohibit camping in other city parks. The bylaw amendments still need to be approved by council.