Microhousing and temporary shelter will be considered in the City of Victoria as potential solutions to homelessness and people sleeping in city parks.
This Thursday, council will also consider quadrupling the city’s 2015 contribution to affordable housing from $250,000 to $1 million, with additional funds provided from the 2014 surplus and earmarked in the housing reserve for the creation of new interim and permanent housing supports.
Council will also discuss amending the parks bylaw to include Haegert Park, Cridge Park, Kings Park and Arbutus Park on the list of parks where it is prohibited to take shelter overnight.
City staff and Victoria police observed a noticeable increase in overnight sheltering activities in parks and green spaces in 2014, stated a staff report to council.
In 2009, the Court of Appeal confirmed that homeless people have a constitutional right to erect temporary shelters in a park if there are no available shelter beds. The city amended the parks regulation bylaw to allow homeless people to erect, use or maintain a structure of other overhead shelter in a park between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. the next day if there are no available shelter beds.
Due to safety issues and the unpredictability of the people sleeping in city parks, police officers are tasked with waking people up in the morning and asking them to move along.
Insp. Scott McGregor said police spend an inordinate amount of time doing this every morning. He said over $400,000 worth of police time is being redirected to this activity.
“The reason it’s the police and bylaw officers that are doing this is because there’s no one else that can go out and do it.”
Coun. Jeremy Loveday said instead of using police resources, the city should have social workers or other customer service experts waking them up in the morning.
Young suggested looking into the possibility of enforcing camping bylaws for people who are not homeless, and directing them to available shelters.
McGregor said an issue is the lack of available shelter beds.
“We’ve not actually been to a place where we’ve had available beds that we can reference people to,” he said, adding he stayed closely on top of this issue last summer, keeping in contact with shelter and housing providers. “They consistently were operating at 118 per cent from May straight through until almost October. Then in October with the increased beds and mats available, they’re operating at around 112 per cent, which is where they are at right now.”
Campers taking advantage of the park bylaw are not a big issue, added McGregor.
Council reaffirmed the city’s commitment to a housing first strategy to deal with homelessness and agreed to lobby the provincial and federal governments for funding.
As a housing alternative, Coun. Ben Isitt recommended the city look into options for increasing the supply of temporary shelter and housing in the city, including microhousing.
Council, with the exception of Coun. Geoff Young, passed this motion.
“Providing permanent housing that does not have the required supports will fail,” said Young. “You are dealing with a healthcare issue.”
Many people sleeping in parks have mental health or substance abuse issues, said the staff report.
“Unless you are prepared to deal with those, disorder is inevitable,” said Young.