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City considers moving Beacon Hill tents away from South Park Elementary

The collection of tents directly across Douglas Street from South Park Elementary continues to raise concerns, but a school parent said there has been a promising reaction from local authorities.
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Parents of South Park Elementary students are concerned about people camping in Beacon Hill Park, which just across Douglas Street from the school. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The collection of tents directly across Douglas Street from South Park Elementary continues to raise concerns, but a school parent said there has been a promising reaction from local authorities.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said in a recent message to parents that she doesn’t think the tents should be in that portion of Beacon Hill Park. “It has become clear over the last 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.”

Parent representative Rich Fleming said there has been a “strong commitment from the city” to try to use bylaws to solve the problem.

“They’re pushing the resources they can toward it,” he said.

For now, Fleming said, there could be a committee of parents formed to “sweep” the grounds each morning for things like needles. “Obviously, that’s not the desired solution at all.”

Like many others, people in the South Park community have a “deep desire” to see a more overarching solution to homelessness issues, beyond what they see near the school, Fleming said.

“Obviously, we don’t want [tents] near a school and [to] put the kids at risk,” said Fleming, who has a child entering Grade 2 at the school as well as two younger children.

He said there have been up to 20 tents visible from South Park.

Greater Victoria School Board chairwoman Jordan Watters said that safety is “the No. 1 priority.”

“We’re watching the situation,” she said.

Overnight sheltering is allowed in several city parks, including Beacon Hill, and council has opted not to enforce rules requiring people to pack up during the day while there is a pandemic. The city received an injunction allowing it to remove people from sensitive areas of the park, but there are still dozens of tents in the area.

Helps said she believes it is appropriate to amend the parks bylaw to prohibit sheltering close to the school.

“I understand that staff are working on a series of bylaw amendments to propose to council in September that will address this and other issues around the city,” she said.

She noted that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has advised that students returning to school should spend as much time as possible outdoors, something that unsafe grounds would prevent.

Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto said she agrees with Helps about the tents needing to move.

“I think there’s no doubt at all that having tents … that close to a school isn’t the most optimal situation,” she said. “We’re very well aware that there are better ways to deal with the reality of that site.”

Alto said Victoria’s committee of the whole meets next on Sept. 3, so she doesn’t expect measures to be in place by the time students return to school on Sept. 10.

“I’m really hoping that we’ll be able to get a handle on this very soon.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com