Council explores alternative ways to help homeless population

The City of Victoria is looking at alternative ways to help the city’s growing homeless population.

The City of Victoria is looking at alternative ways to help the city’s growing homeless population.

During last Thursday’s council meeting, councillors voted to have Mayor Lisa Helps write to municipalities in the CRD asking them to amend their bylaws to permit homeless people to overnight in parks.

The motion comes in response to a landmark decision made by the B.C. Supreme Court last month in which Justice Christopher Hinkson struck down the City of Abbotsford’s bylaw prohibiting sleeping in public space between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. and the city’s request for a permanent injunction against homeless camping.

In Victoria, Coun. Geoff Young, who put forward the motion, said municipalities such as Sidney, Saanich and Oak Bay do not currently permit overnight camping in parks.

“I think that is it important that all municipalities should adjust their bylaws, partly to relieve the burden on our camps,” he said. “We know that there is some camping in other municipalities and I expect there to be more if other cities do let them.”

Most councillors agreed it’s about being able to find balance between letting the city’s homeless shelter in parks, while also keeping them safe for families and people who use the parks.

In another option to help the city’s growing homeless population, city staff have recommended allocating up to $45,000 and $35,000 to establishing a one-year pilot project storage facility for homeless people to store their belongings and a one-year social service outreach pilot project.

The recommendation is part of the Action Plan for Housing, Supports and City Services for Sheltering in City Parks and will be put forward during this Thursday’s governance and priorities meeting.