People living near Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park say city council is asleep at the wheel if it thinks letting people sleep in their cars overnight is a good idea.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Chris Coleman are pitching a change to a bylaw that currently prohibits people from sleeping in their cars, saying it unfairly impacts people who may be looking for jobs but don’t have a place to live.

The exemption would only be put in place when the city’s vacancy rate dips below three per cent. The current vacancy rate stands at 0.5 per cent.

Robin Steffanick, who owns a home across from Beacon Hill Park, is adamantly opposed to the bylaw change, and says he already sees plenty of cars parked overnight throughout the year.

“The cars have been sleeping here all winter, and they sleep right underneath the sign across the street that says ‘No Parking.’ They also sleep at Ogden Point,” he said. “It’s almost like they’re being directed here. If they come here, the police won’t bother them.”

Steffanick thinks a change to the bylaw will only make things worse, possibly leading to a new version of tent city – on wheels.

“It’s bullsh**. This is not what we voted for, this is not what we pay taxes for” he said. “I can tell whether people are moving on or they’re not, and they’re leaving their rubbish, they’re leaving their garbage, they’re leaving their needles and leaving their other crap.”

Wayne Hollohan, a Block Watch captain living near the park, says people living in their vehicles for months in public areas isn’t good for the area.

“We don’t have an issue with people that come there overnight for a weekend or something like that, but we have people who’re actually living there for months at a time, and that’s not appropriate,” he said. “This is not an RV park.”

But others, like George Ireland, say they’ve been forced to sleep in their car in the past and are welcoming the bylaw change with open arms.

“I’ve [slept in my car] before, but I feel like I’m breaking the law…and I have to be very incognito about it,” he said. “I think it’s a great idea for people who don’t have option, and just like anything there’ll be problems that arise, but I see police officers out patrolling the Dallas Road and the area often, at all hours of the night.”

Ireland, who is unemployed and came to Victoria from Edmonton, said he often doesn’t have the option of staying anywhere else with the city’s near-zero vacancy rate.

“Any emergency shelters available aren’t exactly savoury to most, and so it’s a way of making it a little less criminal I think, you don’t have to hide it, and there’s nowhere to stay,” he said.

According to City Hall, 176 tickets were handed out last year for people sleeping in their vehicles.

That’s way up from the previous two years – a sign homelessness is growing even in the working class.

“It’s not rocket science,” Helps said Sunday. “People need a place to live, and people who are working need to have a good sleep so they can go to work in the morning, keep their jobs, and eventually find housing.”

The proposal will be discussed at a committee meeting Thursday, and council could vote on an amendment to the current bylaw as soon as next week. 

With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Chandler Grieve