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Group demands water for unauthorized showers in Beacon Hill Park

Turn on the water or house the people living in Beacon Hill Park.
Raine Balson in one of the showers volunteers have placed at the Beacon Hill Park playing field. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST Nov. 7, 2020

Turn on the water or house the people living in Beacon Hill Park.

That was the ultimatum issued Saturday by a group of volunteers that dropped off and installed a shower facility near the corner of Dallas Road and Douglas Street to be used by homeless people living in tents in Beacon Hill Park.

“What we are demanding is that the people be housed, and that the city does its job and brings in hygiene facilities for the un-housed living there,” said Gina Mowatt, one of the volunteers who has been working on the shower facility. “If not, at least provide water for the handwashing station and the temporary shower stalls we have built.”

Mowatt said the group dropped off the wood and sheet-metal structure Saturday morning but found they could not hook up to a water supply, and that the water for a hand-washing station at the site had been turned off.

Mowatt said the volunteer group knows the shower facility is just a bandage on a massive sore, but it’s better than nothing.

“We are just asking the city to provide running running water until they can create proper facilities,” she said. “We are just concerned citizens doing their job for them at this point. If their laws and policies are doing more harm than good then that’s on them to adapt to that and change them.”

The City of Victoria’s view of the shower stalls is they will not be permitted in the park and will likely be moved.

“These shower structures are not authorized to be in the park. We understand the desire to want to assist people sheltering in the park, but there is a proper way to go about it to ensure the safety of vulnerable people and the environment,” the city said in a statement. “The city cannot allow structures built without permits, especially ones that include gas-fired combustibles.”

Spokesman Bill Eisenhauer said the city has tried to reach out to the volunteer group but have found them unwilling to work with them. “Their insistence on unilateral action leaves us little choice but to enforce the existing rules.”

Eisenhauer noted the city recently approved additional support for Our Place so that its showers can be open to the public 13 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mowatt argued the city’s rules are harming people living in tents. “It’s not safe for un-housed people to not have access to these basic hygiene facilities,” she said. “If policies and laws are harmful, then they need to reassess and adapt. It’s their jurisdiction and that of the province to provide these services.”

The volunteer group said the showers in the park would be maintained and operated by the people living in the park.

The group said it is anticipating the city will attempt to tear down the facility at some point.

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