Victoria councillor wants homeless campers to pack up during the day
A gathering of tents in Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park has grown into a small tent city, but if one councillor has his way, that may change.
City council has allowed homeless people to keep their tents up 24 hours a day in city parks during the pandemic, but now councillor Geoff Young says enough is enough. Young is proposing a motion to council to have the tents brought down daily.
“This was seen as an emergency response, but the emergency is continuing,” Young said Thursday. “Municipalities haven't opened up their parks, even the provincial government hasn't opened up its parks.”
Young worries about environmental impacts to the park. He’s not alone. An online petition has more than 7,000 signatures calling for the end of camping in Beacon Hill Park.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps indicated Thursday that camping in parks, 24 hours a day, seven days a week is allowed because of the pandemic, and is in keeping with guidelines for encampments issued by B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Helps added that since the pandemic is ongoing, the City of Victoria will look to Henry and Island Health chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick for advice on what to do next regarding the campers.
On Thursday, Henry called challenges created by homeless camps “complicated,” and, referencing the overdose deaths in Topaz Park’s camp last month, emphasized the importance of wrap around services, like supervised drug consumption.
“Have those supports for the people who are in safe housing now, and also for the lesser number of people who are now in Beacon Hill Park,” she said.
The controversy comes after hundreds of people were already moved indoors to hotels — and even Victoria's hockey arena, Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre — from encampments.
But for those who think there are more homeless in Victoria than ever, Grant McKenzie - who is a homeless advocate with Our Place Society - says there aren’t, it’s just how things appear at the moment.
“People have now seen that if they set up a tent city -- come together -- it gets the province’s attention, and they get housing,” McKenzie said.
Council is expected to vote next week on whether the homeless campers can keep their tents up all day long.