Victoria parents cautiously optimistic that campers will be moved away from elementary school
VICTORIA -- Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has indicated that a tent encampment that has grown across the street from South Park Elementary School in James Bay may be on the way out.
Last Friday, Helps sent a letter to parents at the school acknowledging that some tents at nearby Beacon Hill Park were not in an appropriate place. In the letter, Helps advised parents that city staff were drafting amendments to bylaws that would prevent sheltering in tents near the school.
“It has become clear over the past few weeks, with the needles, feces and garbage on school property and all the broken windows — that it is not appropriate to have people camping across from an elementary school,” read the letter.
Despite that messaging, some parents of students at the school remain nervous.
Laine Smoley has two children headed to the elementary school in September. She says she’s cautiously optimistic about the campers moving, but is far from certain.
“It’s a start. It’s the first step of many that need to be taken,” said Smoley on Monday.
With students returning to the school in just over three weeks, Smoley says the clock is ticking.
“I think our biggest concern would be the timing of the issue. It’s very time sensitive at this point,” she said.
Victoria city councillor Geoff Young supports the idea of prohibiting campers in the area. But, the councillor thinks the city should go further and flat out reverse its decision to allow around-the-clock camping in some of its parks, including in specific areas of Beacon Hill Park.
The decision to allow 24-hour camping, instead of the usual approximately 12-hour overnight camping, was made by the city near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m under no illusions that this is going to be easy,” Young said. “We have seen that unwinding these tent camps has been tough, and that’s one of the reasons why we shouldn’t have started it.”
The issue has become a political hot potato. The provincial opposition hammered the NDP government last week on homeless camps growing across B.C., like the ones in Beacon Hill Park.
The province issued a statement Monday noting it has housed 500 homeless people in Victoria since the pandemic began.
According to Mike Mulligan, a Victoria-based lawyer, setting rules for homeless camps generally falls within the jurisdiction of a municipality. But, a provincial government can step in and take over the issue.
“That might be something that a municipal government would ordinarily deal with,” Mulligan told CTV News. “If a provincial government decided that they wanted to legislate in that area, they would be free to do so.”
For parents with children going to South Park Elementary School, they don’t care who takes leadership of the issue, they just want the school to be made safe.
“I think we would like our kids to go back to school and only worry about the concerns of COVID-19,” said Smoley.
City council is scheduled to vote on the proposed amendments to its homeless camping bylaws at a council meeting on Sept. 3.
Students go back to class one week later.