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Victoria to ban sheltering in four more parks

Overnighting in Stadacona, Topaz, Hollywood and Regatta Point parks will be prohibited
Victoria will ban sheltering in four parks as of Nov. 9. This file photo from 2020 shows tents in Topaz Park. (Black Press Media file photo)

The City of Victoria will officially ban people experiencing homelessness from sheltering in another four parks as of next week.

The overnight stays at Stadacona, Topaz, Hollywood and Regatta Point parks will no longer be allowed when council adopts amendments to its parks bylaw on Nov. 9. Victoria already requires people staying in parks to pack up and leave between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Council in the summer approved bringing in the new prohibitions on the condition people sheltering there could be housed or provided with “better shelter” by Nov. 1. The city also hired a third-party relocation coordinator to help transition affected people out of parks.

There were 16 people sheltering in the four parks when the timeline was put in place. The city said all of those 16 – as of Oct. 25 – had either received housing or better shelter, were no longer sheltering in the four parks or declined offers of housing assistance.

City staff also visited the parks over the last week of October. Two individuals sheltering in Topaz Park and none in the other parks were counted at the time staff visited.

Council approved the bylaw changes on Thursday (Nov. 2) and a final vote on adopting them will be held on Nov. 9. Councillors said the city is having to act on an issue that’s in the province’s jurisdiction, with Mayor Marianne Alto saying the city and its taxpayers shouldn’t have to be the ones paying for the work.

An online petition launched on Nov. 1 criticizes the expanded park sheltering prohibitions.

“Council can blame the provincial government all it wants for the housing crisis, that does not absolve it of responsibility arising from exercising its own municipal prerogative, such as its bylaws,” the petition by Martin Girard states. “We call for this city to be held accountable for orchestrating a campaign of displacement to nowhere against its most vulnerable constituents.”

But councillors on Thursday said the move returns parks to their intended use as they praised the work of staff and the non-profit that was hired to help homeless individuals with the transition.

Counts conducted in the last week of October showed there were a total 35 “structures” in 12 parks around the city. Council in the coming weeks will get a report on the implications of park sheltering bans on the city’s wider homelessness approach. That report is expected to include criteria for adding certain parks to the banned list.

Coun. Marg Gardiner was the lone member to vote against the bylaw changes as she said the process became about selecting winning and losing neighbourhoods.

In early June, it was announced that police and bylaw officers would start cracking down on those sheltering in Topaz Park.

The city in the following weeks officially banned sheltering at Beacon Hill and Central parks to align with court decisions. That process led to calls for Stadacona, Topaz, Hollywood and Regatta Point parks to also be added to the sheltering prohibition list.

READ: Victoria opens accessible playground at Stadacona Park

READ: Point in Time count to take ‘snapshot’ of homelessness in Greater Victoria

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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