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Victoria moves to end sheltering in 2 parks, permit new sites for homeless

Sheltering at Vic West and Irving parks banned as of August if conditions met
Victoria council decided April 18, 2024 to set conditional end dates for sheltering in two more parks. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

One week after hearing from homelessness advocates and those who are living in city parks, the City of Victoria moved to ban sheltering at more sites.

Council on Thursday (April 18) also started the process of finding non-park alternatives where those experiencing homelessness can go if more sheltering bans are adopted.

A successful motion by councillors Jeremy Caradonna and Krista Loughton proposed banning overnight sheltering at Irving and Vic West parks as of Aug. 1, if the people currently in those spots first get an “offer” of housing or indoor shelter. That offer would be provided through staff working with BC Housing, services providers and the city’s parks relocation coordinator.

Caradonna said the proposal replicates the model of similar moves to shut down legal overnight camping in several parks last year. But the wording of an “offer” differs from those 2023 actions in Topaz, Stadacona and several other parks, where the bans coming into effect were contingent on the people living there being housed or given better shelter.

“As long as they’re offered, that satisfies this,” Loughton said.

Now is the right time to continue restricting park sheltering because there’s a pathway to house most, if not all, of the people in the two parks, Caradonna said.

“In a country as rich as ours, as organized as ours, as compassionate as ours, it’s simply unacceptable to expect that people should be left to live permanently in parks,” he said, adding the two parks have turned into encampments, the situation isn’t working for homeless folks and it’s not OK that neighbours don’t get to use the recreation spaces.

Loughton said Irving and Vic West parks need to be addressed now as they’re becoming encampments with the most people sheltering.

“No one can recover in a tent and we need to do better for people and we need to find more appropriate spaces for people to get well, also for parks to be used as parks,” Loughton said.

She successfully pushed for an additional measure that will see the city identify at least three indoor or outdoor locations, that aren’t parks, where sheltering could be permitted. Those options must be presented to council before June 15.

That move would reflect a request from homelessness advocates last week. Susan Martin, a member of the Neighbourhood Solidarity with Unhoused Neighbours (NSUN), implored council to support an interim solution that would create several sanctioned encampments on paved surfaces around the city, each with no more than 20 residents living in tents, with access to basics like water, electricity and washrooms.

On Thursday, she said several underused parking lots near Pandora Avenue services, the old Yates Street fire hall and the recently city-bought property hosting the former Romeo’s restaurant could be potential spots for small sanctioned encampments.

Martin criticized the approved motion including the city only having to offer people indoor shelter.

“Indoor shelter is NOT housing - it is unacceptable that people are spending months and often years in shelters,” the advocate said in a statement, adding she “will never be satisfied that the city has ‘done its job’ if all it does is move people into shelters.”

Councillors Dave Thompson and Stephen Hammond voted against the plans approved on Thursday. Hammond doubted the non-park shelter sites would have adequate security staff, while Thompson flagged that shuttering sheltering in some spots would just push those people to other parks that are further away from support services.

A bylaw official acknowledged there are still parks that allow overnight sheltering, but very few with washroom facilities. Among those are Oaklands and Gonzales parks.

Councillors said they’ve received concerns about sheltering at those sites and added the city’s relocation coordinator is already working with individuals in the two parks. Members also hinted that those parks are next in line to have sheltering prohibitions considered.

READ: Campaigners urge Victoria for homelessness action, criticize item seizures

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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