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Bylaw prohibiting sheltering in some Victoria parks on hold

Mayor Marianne Alto said the city has to consider what effect the changes would have on “folks who have no other options but to shelter in parks”
Coun. Marg Gardiner has proposed adding Irving Park in James Bay to the list of no-shelter sites. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A City of Victoria bylaw ­amendment that aims to outlaw overnight sheltering in a ­number of city parks is on hold until the fall.

At the request of Mayor ­Marianne Alto, council on ­Thursday referred the draft bylaw back to staff to ­determine what impact the bylaw ­amendment might have on the city’s approach to dealing with sheltering.

Alto said the city has to consider what effect the changes would have on “folks who have no other options but to shelter in parks,” noting it’s difficult to find the right balance.

The bylaw amendment ­dictates that overnight ­sheltering in Topaz, Hollywood, Regatta Point and Stadacona parks will be illegal as of Nov. 1, subject to the city being able to house or better shelter the tenters who had been using the parks as of June 22.

Prohibitions were already in place to outlaw sheltering at all times in Beacon Hill Park and Central Park.

The decision to refer the bylaw back to city staff was passed unanimously.

Coun. Dave Thompson said the goal is to get the details right.

“Council has over the last few months clearly provided its broad direction, which is that the city is going to play its part and that we expect the provincial government to play its part in providing housing and sheltering opportunities to people who are unhoused and to move the sheltering out of parks and off the streets,” he said.

“I see this motion as getting the details right so that we can proceed in that broad direction that we’ve outlined.”

City staff have indicated that it could be back before council with a report this fall, before the Nov. 1 deadline.

For the time being, the bylaw is on hold, which means the fate of sheltering in Irving Park in James Bay is also on hold.

Coun. Marg Gardiner had proposed adding Irving Park to the list of no-shelter sites on Thursday. Saying the park, bordered by Menzies Street and Michigan Avenue, is a special place in James Bay at the centre of the urban village, Gardiner said the well-used park is often a no-go zone.

“As the pandemic continued, entrenched sheltering became the norm and over the past few years, the police have attended regularly,” she said, adding local residents have complained of threats, weapons, assaults and late-night noise coming from the tenters.

The city has allocated up to $25,000 to hire a third-party ­contractor to help transition campers from the parks, and to identify designated spaces in the city that could serve as ­alternatives to sheltering in parks — and spots where new supportive housing projects could be established.

The Beacon Hill Park ­prohibition brought the city in line with a recent Supreme Court ruling that overnight ­sheltering in ­Beacon Hill is not a permitted use of the park under the terms of the Beacon Hill Park Trust.

The bylaw prohibiting ­sheltering in the park was due to expire in July, while the one prohibiting sheltering at Central Park near Crystal Pool expired last fall.

With the addition of Topaz, Hollywood and Regatta Point parks to the list of ­prohibited zones, only five parks with ­washroom facilities will ­continue to allow overnight ­sheltering — Pemberton Park, Gonzales Park, Irving Park, ­Victoria West Park and Oaklands Park.

If Irving Park is eventually added to the list, there will be four.

There are several parks ­without washroom facilities where sheltering is allowed. The city also has 23 parks where sheltering is not allowed at any time.

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