Victoria councillor says clearing tents from Centennial Square will force more homeless into Beacon Hill
VICTORIA -- With the City of Victoria now preparing to move homeless campers out of Centennial Square, a city councillor says homeless encampments in nearby city parks are set to grow.
Coun. Geoff Young says he expects the city's Tuesday deadline to clear tents out of the square behind city hall will only force more people into Beacon Hill Park and other municipal greenspaces.
"Just moving people around is not really going to solve any issues for the city," Young told CFAX 1070 on Monday.
Young said it's time for the city to force homeless campers to take down their tents during the day – something the city stopped doing during the COVID-19 crisis.
"It's going in a very predictable direction," Young said of the city's homeless encampments, which have been the subject of police investigations into organized drug trafficking, weapons complaints and bicycle thefts.
Young said council has heard complaints about encampments growing not only in Beacon Hill Park, but also Irving Park, Stadacona Park, Hollywood Park and several others.
The councillor said he agrees with Victoria police Chief Del Manak's claim that homeless people from across the country have moved to Victoria because of city policies allowing full-time encampments in parks.
"I absolutely think that’s the case," Young said. "I've always distrusted the statistics that say most of them are from Victoria."
Last week, Victoria police said five people were arrested and 12 people were still at large following an undercover drug-trafficking investigation in Centennial Square.
Two stabbings have occurred in the square in recent weeks, and there have been multiple assaults reported. A window at city hall – which abuts the square – was shot and broken by a compressed air gun.
On Friday, the city ordered the Centennial Square homeless camp cleared by Tuesday.
"We recognize every person has the right to shelter and that COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges faced by vulnerable populations,” said city spokesperson Sheldon Johnson. “However, Centennial Square has become entrenched with a criminal element that demands greater action to protect the public, businesses and those seeking shelter.”
The city says Centennial Square will be cleaned and landscaping remediation will begin once the square is cleared.
Young says the time has come for a long-term solution to homeless encampments.
"We have to start now on unwinding the situation," he said. "Ending the daytime camping, limiting the amount of stuff people can accumulate in our parks and public spaces is the first step."