A petition demanding the City ‘save Beacon Hill Park’ has garnered more than 5,000 signatures after a motion was passed by city council last month that allows people to shelter in parks 24 hours a day until June 25.
Cynthia Diadick, who lives near the park, started the petition after “writing letters to the mayor [and council] for three months” trying to find out what the plan was for those living in Beacon Hill Park.
“Basically, [the park] appears to be a small version of Pandora,” she says, adding that neighbours have been sending her messages about trash, needles and human waste being left in the park.
She stresses that those signing the petition “are not anti-homeless.”
“We are saying that we want this city and other levels of government – whoever it takes – to get together and get a plan and get people into housing because Beacon Hill is not a tent city,” she says.
During the pandemic, more than 300 people living along Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park were relocated to hotel rooms around the city. “Did we not buy enough hotels?” wonders Diadick.
The City changed the plan on where to house the homeless population during the pandemic a number of times. At first, they were all to be sheltered in three parks, which included Beacon Hill. Then it was only two parks and eventually, only Topaz Park was used to shelter people before many were moved into hotels.
“The solution is to buy another motel,” says Mayor Lisa Helps, adding that the City will continue to work with the provincial and federal governments to find those kinds of solutions. According to Helps all the motel rooms that have been secured are filled.
“It’s one of those solutions where everybody wins right? If the province buys another motel and moves people in from Beacon Hill, the people who are living outside are no longer left behind and the people who want their park back have their park back — so it’s quite simple.”
The petition also points to Beacon Hill Park Trust that states the park can only be used for recreation and enjoyment of the public.
At the end of May, the City passed a motion that defers enforcement of a bylaw that only allows people to shelter in any park from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The motion also directs bylaw staff to not remove shelters or belongings that are abandoned or unoccupied until 72 hours after they’ve been tagged.
Diadick likens the motion to “doing your job with one hand tied behind your back.”
The City of Victoria also purchased two properties on Pandora Avenue for almost $10 million, as part of the plan to address affordable housing although Helps says there is no plan in place for the site as of yet.
Helps says the long term solution is building more modular housing with supports across the region.
“The City of Victoria is a tiny 20 square kilometre handkerchief of land … and there’s literally a certain point where there’s not going to be enough room for all the housing that’s needed,” she says.
“Other municipalities have more land and we’re going to need to have those conversations especially since the province is willing to put up funding for housing and supports.”