Premier Horgan calls on Victoria to create more proactive housing solutions
VICTORIA -- As tensions continue to boil over about homeless campers at a popular Victoria park, British Columbia’s premier is calling on the City of Victoria to do more.
On Monday morning during a press conference, B.C. Premier John Horgan said it is a mistake to not enforce park bylaws which stop people from camping during the day at Beacon Hill Park.
“Victoria has chosen not to enforce that because they believe that in a pandemic that would be ill-advised. I disagree with that,” he said.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps tells CTV News that the city is following advice from the provincial health officer.
“We are following the advice we received from Dr. Bonnie Henry,” said Helps. “Until there is somewhere safe for people to go indoors, dismantling encampments does more harm than good.”
According to an eight-page document sent to Victoria's mayor by Dr. Henry, encampments, or tent cities, can offer vulnerable people a sense of community and security.
The letter adds that while encampments are not suitable or desirable for long-term housing, they may be temporarily necessary to provide shelter if other options are not available.
“It’s not easy, it is a challenging situation,” said Helps. “It’s not ideal, I’d rather not have anyone living in Beacon Hill Park or outside.”
Horgan is appealing to the City of Victoria to step up with some “genuine ideas,” however, in addition to relying on provincial support.
“I know mayor and council are grappling with these issues but clearly there needs to be some leadership at the municipal level,” he said.
The B.C. government has purchased a handful of hotels and motels, including the former Comfort Inn and Suites and the former Paul’s Motor Inn, to provide temporary shelter for homeless people who were living in Topaz Park and along Pandora Avenue.
Ryan McLeod was living in a tent on Pandora Avenue and claims he was moved to Beacon Hill Park by bylaw officers who had promised him a hotel room.
“They came to us and said, ‘You’re going to these hotels’, they kept telling us. I don’t know if it was a bunch of tricks,” said McLeod.
“Of course I’d love a place and get off my feet, it’s not easy to hold on while you’re on the street,” he said.
McLeod said people are driving by and harassing and swearing at campers, telling them to get a job.
“It just hurts my heart, honestly,” said McLeod. “I don’t know man, it’s just really emotional. At the end of the day I’m just trying to get through it.”
Residents living near Beacon Hill Park have expressed frustration for weeks, and more than 21,000 people have now signed an online petition calling for campers to be removed from the park entirely.
Victoria resident Richard Eric Meek said people have been complaining about “irate people arguing, screaming at each other” every night.
“It’s very hard to get people out once they’ve established themselves,” he said.
Helps says the city is currently looking into vacant spaces at the former Oak Bay Lodge and at the University of Victoria to possibly use as shelters.
“There are certainly solutions to be found,” she said. “What it is going to take is all of us working together.”
Meanwhile, a City of Victoria solicitor was in court Monday working on an injunction to move homeless people out of ecologically sensitive areas of Beacon Hill Park into other areas of the park.
“We’ll have to await the results,” said Helps.