Victoria granted court order to move campers out of sensitive areas of Beacon Hill
VICTORIA -- The B.C. Supreme Court has granted Victoria’s request for an injunction to relocate homeless campers sheltering in sensitive areas of Beacon Hill Park to other areas of the park amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The City of Victoria first sought an injunction to move some campers on July 10 due to concerns over damage to environmentally vulnerable areas of the park, like Garry oak groves.
On Tuesday, the city announced that the B.C. Supreme Court approved its injunction. Now, the city will work with people sheltering in vulnerable areas of Beacon Hill Park to help them move to other areas of the park, where they will be permitted to stay 24 hours a day.
The city estimates that around 100 people are currently sheltering in the park, with the majority of the campers staying in permitted camping areas of Beacon Hill.
As of Tuesday afternoon, approximately 78 camping structures were set up in permitted sheltering areas of the park, while 38 were still located inside prohibited areas.
The city of Victoria says that many campers have voluntarily moved out of prohibited areas of the park since court proceedings first began on July 10.
As campers continue to relocate, the city says that it is offering to help connect individuals with provincial supports and health services.
“This is a challenging time for everyone, especially for people in our city who don’t have a home,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in a release Tuesday.
“Nevertheless, we expect everyone to respect the court order and relocate now to areas within the park where sheltering is not prohibited. We recognize that this will make those camping more visible and we hope that as a community we can come together to get through this challenging time,” she said.
While the city did not provide a concrete timeline on when all campers would be relocated, the municipality did say that it expects the process to be “completed quickly and in an orderly manner.”
The city adds that the relocation plan is “being coordinated in a compassionate and collaborative way.”
While campers are being moved from environmentally sensitive areas of the park, B.C. Premier John Horgan says that he disagrees with the city’s decision to allow unsheltered people to remain at the park 24 hours a day.
Under normal circumstances, homeless campers are only allowed to stay in certain sections of the park from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.
“Victoria has chosen not to enforce that because they believe that in a pandemic that would be ill-advised. I disagree with that,” said Horgan on Monday.
In response, Helps told CTV News that the city was following advice from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who recommended that encampments be allowed to stay amid the pandemic.
“Until there is somewhere safe for people to go indoors, dismantling encampments does more harm than good,” said Helps Monday.
The City of Victoria says that it is continuing to search for housing options for unsheltered people, especially as many local shelters have closed or reduced services due to COVID-19.