“There’s no way I’m moving on shore,” said John after meeting with outreach workers from Pacifica Housing at the Victoria West Community Centre on Tuesday.
For the last eight years, John has called the Gorge Waterway his home, living in a 50-foot boat anchored near the Selkirk Trestle. And he’s not alone.
A number of derelict boats and floating vessels have been permanently anchored near Banfield Park for several years, sparking complaints about leaking sewage, oil, fuel, noise and garbage from many area residents.
At last count, the city tallied 24 vessels and four floating wharves situated in the area. At least seven of those are used as residences, including John, who did not want to publish his real name.
But now John’s days of living in the Gorge are numbered, leaving him with mixed emotions about his plans to anchor elsewhere.
“It’s nice being in the middle of town, but on the other hand it really sucks. It’s like living in a fish bowl,” said John, who’s already moved two of his three vessels that were anchored in the Gorge, costing him between $3,000 to $4,000. “For most of these people, it’s all they have.”
In 2013, Victoria council began floating a plan to deal with the boats, but ran into a number of hurdles since the province owned that portion of the water.
The city has since received a license of occupation from the province and rezoned the current regulations to allow anchoring for a period of up to 48 hours, but not exceeding 72 total hours in a 30-day period.
In June, notices were issued to all boats in the area as part of an education and voluntary compliance phase. Owners were asked to remove their boats and vessels by July 18, but so far only three have left the area.
Last week, the city issued a second round of notices to those still anchored in the Gorge, reminding owners that they are occupying the area contrary to the city’s zoning regulation bylaw.
Now Oct. 28 has been set as the final deadline before the city begins enforcement to remove the remaining vessels, and seek an injunction from the B.C. Supreme Court if necessary.
Outreach workers from Pacifica Housing were on hand Tuesday afternoon, meeting with those still living on the Gorge. According to outreach manager Angela McNulty-Buell, the vast majority want to stay on their boats instead of looking for accommodation on land, and want to work with the city to find ways of relocating their homes.
“They’re willing to have their boats towed to an area they can be moored and get their boats up to standards so they can be deemed true liveaboards...We didn’t meet with anybody who was just saying we’re staying in the Gorge and there’s nothing the city can do,” said McNulty-Buell, adding one person said they might be ready to move into an apartment.
“It’s a way of life for most of the folks we met today. It’s what they know, it’s their home. You can’t really argue with that.”
The city has set aside up to $120,000 for enforcement of the Gorge Waterway and is currently working with a local company to remove two sunken vessels from the area. Signs will soon be posted informing the public of the limited mooring regulations. The public is asked to report any long-term mooring.