Two local organizations are speaking up ahead of Victoria’s city council meeting Thursday in the hopes that councillors will vote against a proposed camping ban in Beacon Hill Park.
The motion, brought forward by Mayor Lisa Helps and Couns. Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe, calls for a two-year ban on any kind of camping in Victoria’s largest city park. It estimates that is the amount of time needed to restore Beacon Hill Park’s lawns, vegetation and biodiversity, following over a year of intensive camping during the pandemic.
But advocacy and community organizations, the Existence Project and Rethink Urban, say the criminalization and enforcement of homelessness will not make the problem go away.
In a statement Wednesday, the organizations said according to unhoused residents living in the park, Beacon Hill is the only city park large enough to offer any kind of agency or privacy in choosing who lives near them. For residents, this is a matter of safety. It’s also why many avoid shelters where they say there is a lack of privacy and threats of violence or theft.
The Existence Project and Rethink Urban said people also dislike shelters because of no guest policies, no pet policies and a lack of storage space. Some people have been banned from shelters and have to sleep outside.
The organizations also argue that Beacon Hill Park provides unhoused people a centralized location to easily access services and with a community of peers and support. Some people, they say, have used the park as a safe haven for over 10 years.
During the deadliest period of B.C.’s overdose crisis, the organizations argue breaking up the Beacon Hill Park community could have serious consequences.
“This ban on camping will likely push people further away from life-saving services in the downtown core,” they wrote.
Beacon Hill Park was one of many parks opened to people experiencing homelessness when the pandemic hit and has been a point of controversy ever since. Critics argue it rendered the park unusable and unsafe for anyone else, while unhoused people and advocates say homeless people have just as much a right to use the space as anyone else.
Camping in the park is currently limited to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The Existence Project and Rethink Urban are asking that council rethink or delay the banning motion until a contingency plan, developed with people living in Beacon Hill Park, is created. Councillors will discuss the motion during council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting Thursday.
Meetings can be watched live at victoria.ca.
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