The City of Victoria is seeking a court order to enforce sheltering rules in Beacon Hill Park.
On Friday, the City filed an application with the B.C. Supreme Court seeking an order that would require people who are homeless to shelter in permitted areas of the park only. It would prohibit them from sheltering in environmentally and culturally sensitive areas as designated under the City’s Parks Bylaw.
The Garry oak ecosystem in Beacon Hill Park is part of a protected and endangered natural system of which less than five per cent remains in B.C.
“This is a challenging time for everyone, especially for people in our city who don’t have a home,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. “While we acknowledge previous court decisions that recognized the rights of people experiencing homelessness to shelter in municipal parks, we all have a responsibility to protect sensitive ecosystems and the natural environment.”
Helps said no one is being forced to leave the park but that people will be expected to relocate to less vulnerable areas. The park itself is over 200 acres large with 50 acres of land available for temporary sheltering. About 93 acres of the park are culturally or ecologically significant and areas are “experiencing significant damage,” Helps said in a briefing on Friday.
For weeks, staff and community outreach workers have been meeting with about 100 people sheltering in Beacon Hill Park to request they move to less sensitive areas, according to a statement from the City of Victoria. The meetings will continue to take place daily to assist with moving and to connect those who are sheltering in the park with provincial housing supports and health services. The City said many people have already relocated and expects everyone to move willingly.
According to the City, the relocation plan is “being coordinated in a compassionate way” that is safe for those sleeping outside while indoor shelters are closed or operating with reduced services due to the pandemic. About 180 people are estimated to be sheltering in parks in Victoria.
Helps noted that those sheltering in Beacon Hill Park will be more visible as they move out of ecologically sensitive areas and into more open areas. She said she hopes residents will be understanding of their need for safe shelter and support. Helps acknowledged that some residents feel no one should be camping in Beacon Hill Park but also noted that homelessness is an issue that’s been caused over years and has been exacerbated by the pandemic. She requested that park users not take photos of people sheltering or their sites and said this is an opportunity to share the park.
Victoria expects the B.C. Supreme Court will hear the application during the week of July 27 and if an injunction is granted, people who have not moved to permitted areas of the park will be ordered to do so.