The City of Victoria is opening up three parks as temporary sites for the area’s homeless population in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently many shelters have closed or limited their capacities, and parks and playgrounds have also been closed, causing people to gather along the 900-block of Pandora Avenue.
In response, Victoria will allow people to set up temporary shelters in Beacon Hill Park and Topaz Park. In addition, BC Housing, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Dandelion Society and Island Health will be working together to monitor the parks, and ensure that the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 is available to people. Hand washing stations, bathrooms and access to meals will also be made available.
The City of Victoria will also shift Royal Athletic Park at 1014 Caledonia Ave. into an outdoor shelter space for the most vulnerable members of the homeless population, including those with mental and physical health care needs.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps announced to the public on March 23 that all involved parties are working to ensure that none of the parks transform into tent cities, as have been seen near the BC Court House and in Saanich in previous years, ensuring that structures will be installed and staff will be on site to ensure proper social distancing and cleanliness.
In addition, BC Housing has purchased the property at 938 Mason St. and will temporarily use the site as a triage centre and COVID-19 test site for Victoria’s homeless population.
Campers will be allowed in Topaz and Beacon Hill parks immediately, while the Royal Athletic Park is set to open as soon as possible, with the aim to be open by the end of the week.
In the meantime, handwashing stations and bathrooms will also be set up along Pandora Avenue until populations are better distributed through the other parks.
Helps noted that more facilities may open in the near future, depending on what the province wants to do; during a provincial emergency the government has the power to take over any municipal facilities.
“We are all in this together. Some populations in our community don’t have the same options the rest of us do to stay safe, healthy and self-isolate at this time in accordance with the Chief Health Officer’s directions,” said Helps. “That’s why we’re working with all of our partners and looking at every option, to ensure everyone has the best chance at not spreading the COVID-19 virus. We all need to do our part: stay home, maintain physical distance with others when outside, and comply with the directives public health officials.”