Outrage sparked over homeless camp proposed for Victoria park
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Friday, July 24, 2015 2:49PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, July 24, 2015 6:27PM PDT
Leaders of local sports organizations are speaking out against a proposed homeless encampment in Victoria’s Topaz Park.
Council named the park the most favourable to host a temporary tent city that would help alleviate the number of people sleeping on city streets.
The southwest corner of the park, a wooded area adjacent to a parking lot, is the ideal spot due to “the presence of tennis courts that are currently closed, nearby washrooms, distance from residential areas and the proximity to transit as well as access to the downtown and services,” a city report says.
While residences border the park along Finlayson Street and Quadra streets, there are no homes located near the southwest corner along Blanshard Street and Topaz Avenue.
Still, local sports organizers say they’re concerned because the area is already known for illicit activities.
“We just want to make sure we have a safe atmosphere, because this neighbourhood, sometimes we already find stuff on the fields in the morning,” said Steph Steiner, head coach of World Cup Soccer Camp.
“Stuff gets left around the fields, beer cans broken, needles we’ve found in the mornings, and hopefully that kind of stuff wouldn’t increase because it’s just not the right image for kids playing these sports.”
The president of the Greater Victoria Mixed Slowpitch Association called for governments to do more to house the homeless, and that a park where kids play sports isn’t an appropriate venue.
“It makes no sense to me,” said Scott Wood. “Let’s build the proper facilities for these homeless individuals, and let’s keep them out of the park. That’s as simple as it can get, in my opinion, because our parks are precious.”
But the City says it’s stuck between a rock and a hard place because it doesn’t have an operating budget for additional emergency shelters, and the federal government hasn’t committed money to building any.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the park was proposed because it’s the furthest away from a residential neighbours, and there are no sensitive natural areas at the site.
“There’s a lot of fear, and I’m going to ask Victorians to be two things,” she said. “One is be patient. Two is be compassionate. This is a pilot project. If it’s a miserable failure, we scrap it.”
She also reminded concerned neighbours that the park will be under strict supervision and patrolled regularly.
“It’s a designated tenting area that will be run by a non-profit society,” she said. “There’ll be security, there’ll be rules, and you know why? Because the people who are trying to get a good sleep at night who happen to be homeless, they want to be safe too.”
Helps called on the federal government to cough up money for 367 units of affordable housing to be built for the city’s homeless population, calling it the “magic number” to provide everyone with shelter.
She also encouraged Victorians to contact their federal representatives because housing is a federal and not municipal responsibility.
“We need the federal government to step up to the plate and support housing. We don’t need shelters, we don’t need tent cities, we need everybody in this city to have a home,” she said.
She also shot down the suggestion that property values near Topaz Park could go up due because the encampment would be temporary and not permanent.
Councillor Geoff Young was more wary of the proposal, saying he didn’t think there was a good place for a tent city in Victoria.
“From past experience, we know that there are always problems created by these tent cities,” he said. “They need a lot of management. I know we’ve been told there’ll be no drug consumption, there’ll be no violence, I think that’s another way of saying the violence, the drug dealing will take place in the surrounding area.”
A timeline has not been established for a final vote or for the implementation of the camp, according to the city’s report.
A B.C. Supreme Court ruling in 2009 found it unconstitutional to deny homeless people the right to camp in city parks if there are no shelter beds available.
With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Scott Cunningham