VICTORIA -- Victoria will continue allowing homeless campers to stay at Beacon Hill Park and other approved park locations 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ordinarily, camping is only allowed in designated areas, like Beacon Hill Park, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily for those who are unsheltered.

During the pandemic, however, the city has been allowing campers to stay and will not be forcing people to pack up their tents and move each morning.

Last week, Victoria councillor Geoff Young called for an end to the all-day camping, citing concerns over safety and environmental impacts on the parks.

On Thursday, however, council voted to allow the camping to remain at a committee of the whole meeting.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says that the decision is in line with recommendations provided by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“The decision today was to follow the advice provided by Dr. Henry that was presented to mayors and councils across the province on June 8. [The advice] is, until there is adequate indoor sheltering, that disrupting encampments is probably not the best public health practice,” she said.

Helps says that the situation is “not ideal for anyone” but is necessary as no other alternatives are available.

Victoria’s mayor notes that homeless encampments have appeared “right outside [her] office” in Centennial Square and that other cities across Canada are grappling with similar housing challenges.

She hopes that everyone, both campers and housed residents, will come together during an extraordinary time and work to live together through the pandemic.

“These are challenging situations,” she said. “The people who are camping outside feel insecure and threatened and the people who live in their homes feel insecure and threatened.”

“And so, my question to council today, and my question to the community is, ‘How can we figure out, in these very challenging times, [how] to live well together?’”

Victoria’s mayor says she’s uncertain when the encampments may be dispersed, but says that they could remain for as long as the pandemic does.