'Everything was flooded': Victoria to remediate Central Park after storms, campers moved
VICTORIA -- Heavy rain and snow in Victoria have flooded a park where people experiencing homelessness were living, and officials are still trying to find a permanent location for them.
The City of Victoria confirmed with CTV News that people living in Central Park have been moved to a parking lot at Royal Athletic Park.
In the meantime, city staff plan to begin remediation efforts at Central Park. The park will be closed on Jan. 4 so staff can assess impacts and address hazards.
Mayor Lisa Helps says she feels terrible for the people who got flooded.
“Everything was flooded and people had just [received] their income assistance cheques, had bought food and even the food got flooded. It really was an extraordinary effort in the days leading up to Christmas,” said Helps.
A coordinated community response helped move campers into the parking lot. People from the North Park Neighbourhood Association, Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, BC Housing and the City of Victoria assisted in the move.
A group of volunteers spent their holiday and Christmas Day setting up the temporary tents in the parking lot.
Sarah Murray, executive director of North Park Neighbourhood Association, says that board members and community members realized no one else was going to build the platforms, so they jumped into action.
“It needed to be done, unfortunately over the holidays, so they just did it,” said Murray.
Staff with the City of Victoria say the move to Royal Athletic Park is temporary.
“Until additional indoor space is opened by BC Housing, the city is making the parking lot at Royal Athletic Park available for temporary sheltering,” said Sheldon Johnson, manager of engagement.
Mayor Helps says work is underway right now to secure the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre for use as a temporary shelter.
“Any of us who thought we were going to have a holiday this year – that has gone up in smoke, including for our colleagues at the province,” she said. “But the work is underway to find that operator, to get that deal signed and to get people inside.”
New tents and fresh bedding are being given to campers from BC Housing and the city. Warm and dry supplies are also being delivered to other parks that need the supplies.
“It was a remarkable outpouring of support from a lot of community organizations and just neighbours who live in the area to come out and build this space,” said Jen Wilde, regional coordinator for the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Response Program.
Wilde says a more diverse approach is needed to help the housing situation in Victoria, but this is a small step forward.
“It’s not the best,” she said. “We are still not super happy, this is not what we want to see people existing in by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a step up and a step in the right direction.”
BC Housing confirms with CTV News that discussions are taking place to secure the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, but nothing has been confirmed.
Murray says people deserve to live in more than tents.
“This is not housing,” she said, “The arena is at least covered. It would have a service provider, it would have three meals a day, it would be able to match people up with the supports that they need and it’s that steppingstone to permanent accommodations and a home of their own.”
About 37 people will stay in the parking lot, which is not mandatory. But people will have to be out of Central Park come Monday.
Helps is still optimistic that by March 31, everyone will be housed indoors.