VICTORIA -- The City of Victoria is asking the province's highest court to relocate homeless people from certain areas of Beacon Hill Park to other areas deemed less culturally and environmentally sensitive.

The city filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday seeking an order to remove people sheltering in the park's Garry oak groves and allow them to camp instead in "less vulnerable locations within the park," the city said in a statement Friday.

"The Garry oak ecosystems in Beacon Hill Park are part of a protected and endangered natural system, which less than five per cent remains in B.C.," the city said.

“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 the statement.

“While we acknowledge previous court decisions that recognized the rights of people experiencing homelessness to shelter in municipal parks, we all have a responsibility to protect sensitive ecosystems and the natural environment," Helps said.

“No one is being forced to leave Beacon Hill Park, but we do expect people to relocate to one of the many less vulnerable areas.”

The number of homeless people in Beacon Hill Park and other city parks has grown significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The municipality has worked with provincial and regional housing organizations to move homeless people out of parks and into shelters, including motels around the city.

Victoria staff and outreach workers estimate that 180 people are currently sheltering in city parks, with approximately 100 of them in Beacon Hill Park.

The city said it anticipates it will be able to move homeless people willingly from the Garry oak areas of the park.

"No one should have to live outside in a tent because they don’t have a place to stay,” Helps said. “Getting everyone housed indoors will take continued leadership and investment from the provincial and federal governments, as well as cooperation and coordination throughout the region.”

The city says it expects the court to hear its application to move homeless people within Beacon Hill Park during the week of July 27.