A layer of frost coats the tents in Victoria’s Central Park Tuesday morning and the remains of a Monday snowfall dusts the tarps and structures dotting the park.
Many of the people living there use pallets to keep themselves off the ground, but it doesn’t stop the cold from seeping in.
Mikko Lindroos, a 44-year Victoria resident, has been living in the park since August. He lights candles to keep warm. Currently, the city’s sheltering bylaw prohibits open flame appliances and requires a permit for electricity.
“I have a pinched nerve and arthritis. I’m going blind,” he said. “I need to get inside.”
On Monday the North Park Neighbourhood Association’s board of directors issued a letter to BC Housing and the City of Victoria asking that the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena be used again to provide immediate and temporary indoor housing.
“As the weather worsens so do the circumstances for those in Central Park,” the letter reads. “Housed and unhoused residents in and around Central Park are reporting an increase in criminal activity, assaults and declining health conditions that come with living outdoors in the winter in a concentrated encampment.”
The Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena was used as a 45-bed temporary indoor shelter shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic started, but that came to an end in September.
A spokesperson for BC Housing told Black Press Media it recently began discussions on reusing the arena, but that no firm decisions have been made. Instead, it and the City of Victoria are arranging for 45 to 50 people to move from Central Park to the Royal Athletic Park parking lot – a paved area that BC Housing says will provide higher, drier ground. The Victoria Fire Department also has a stock of replacement tents and cots that it has offered to campers.
Hundreds of people have been moved to long-term temporary shelters since the pandemic started, thanks to partnerships between the City of Victoria, Island Health and BC Housing, but hundreds remain outdoors.
Lindroos tries to find spaces in Victoria’s overnight shelters, but COVID-19 restrictions limit capacity.
“I’ve been doing this for three years,” Lindroos said. “So I’m getting pretty good at surviving but it’s getting to me. The doctor said it’s going to kill me.”