Victoria council candidate holding town hall to seek 'solutions' to Beacon Hill Park camping
VANCOUVER -- A candidate in the City of Victoria's postponed city council byelection plans to host an online town hall Sunday afternoon seeking "solutions" to camping in Beacon Hill Park.
The virtual event is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Council candidate Stephen Andrew is the organizer.
The event's description asks participants to come with solutions to camping in parks in the city, and promises to be the first of "a number of community meetings looking for input."
Camping in Beacon Hill Park has become a lightning rod for controversy during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the city has allowed encampments in public parks to remain standing around the clock, rather than requiring tents to be taken down during the day.
The city's Mayor Lisa Helps has said dismantling homeless camps daily during the pandemic would go against the advice of provincial public health officials.
Speaking to CTV News Vancouver Island before Sunday's town hall, Andrew described the event as the result of Victoria residents reaching out to him to discuss the homelessness issue.
"When some of the local leaders threw up their hands and said there was nothing they can do, I thought, 'Well, surely we can get together as a community and look for solutions,'" he said. "It's not about ranting. It's about finding solutions."
In May, the province stepped in to dismantle earlier homeless camps in Victoria's Topaz Park and along Pandora Avenue, but only once indoor housing had been secured for all of the residents.
So far, no such plan has been put forward for the campers in Beacon Hill Park.
In the meantime, Victoria police say the Beacon Hill encampment has been partially to blame for an increase in crime in the city, and thousands of residents have signed a petition calling for the city to move the campers out of the park.
Sunday's town hall comes after a week in which some of the city's parks and recreation staff refused to work in the park because someone there had threatened to harm them.
The city is investigating the incident and staff are limiting their work in the park to garbage pickup and washroom cleaning until the investigation is complete.
Andrew said the primary feeling the situation in the park evokes for him is sadness. He said he feels sad for the people living in the park, for the city workers and for the people living near the park.
He said he's hopeful that by coming together and working together, the community can begin to resolve the issues they're having.
"This is not an us and them situation," he said. "There's many, many facets to this."
Andrew said video of the meeting will be posted on his website after the event's conclusion. Anyone unable to participate in the meeting directly is still welcome to be a part of the conversation, he said.
"If they have ideas that have not come forth in the online meeting, send them to us, and if they're good ideas, we'll advocate for them," he said.