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Sheltering off limits in Beacon Hill, Central Park, and Stadacona could be next

Victoria council decision in line with recent Supreme Court ruling that overnight sheltering in Beacon Hill is not allowed under the Beacon Hill Park Trust. Central Park near Crystal Pool was included in the bylaw as it is susceptible to flooding.
An encampment at Central Park in Victoria on Dec. 3, 2020. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Bylaw amendments adopted by Victoria council on Thursday will prohibit overnight ­sheltering at all times in Beacon Hill Park and Central Park, a ban that could soon be extended to Stadacona Park.

Council unanimously passed the amendment for both Beacon Hill and Central parks, which brings 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.

A bylaw prohibiting ­sheltering in Beacon Hill Park was due to expire in July.

Central Park near Crystal Pool, which had a temporary ban on overnight sheltering, was included in the bylaw as it is susceptible to flooding, which in the past has caused significant damage to property. The bylaw prohibiting sheltering at Central expired last fall.

Coun. Jeremy Caradonna ­suggested adding Stadacona to the list of parks prohibited for sheltering by Nov. 1, subject to the city being able to provide better shelter for those camping in the park.

In a motion that will come back to council in two weeks for adoption, council voted 8-1 to add Stadacona to the list.

“I think it’s time to move away from sheltering in parks as a viable long-term solution,” said Caradonna. “Sheltering in parks became the norm during the pandemic. Obviously, there was a bit of that going on prior to the pandemic, but it became very normal and regularized during the pandemic.”

Caradonna argued sheltering in parks is stressful for ­everyone from the unhoused, who have to pack up every morning, to the bylaw and police officers who have to ensure the shelters are compliant, and ­neighbourhoods that deal with the fallout of having their parks filled with tents.

“The reality is that the status quo is just simply not working, and it’s time to shake things up,” he said, adding the goal is not to just pass on the problem to another park or area of the city, but to find a better solution for those in the tents.

“I also recognize, as we all do, that other parks have ­challenges, we all know that. But Stadacona is unique in that it’s ­undergoing a big renovation there, and there’s just not much space left to shelter and the area where there is sheltering is infested with rats,” he said. “It’s highly unsafe and unhealthy.”

Stadacona is in the midst of a $725,000 upgrade to its playground, which is expected to be finished early in the fall.

Caradonna conceded that adding Stadacona rather than Topaz Park, for example, may seem arbitrary, but he called it a test case. “This is a test case to see if we can hold ourselves ­accountable, get people in a ­better situation, and move on from sheltering in parks,” he said. “And if we’re ­successful here, we’ll apply it to other parks.”

Coun. Marg Gardiner, the lone voice against adding Stadacona to the mix, said council has heard complaints from residents all over the city about shelters popping up in parks, boulevards and other empty spaces

“I am quite disturbed that we are going to be picking who’s a winner and who’s a loser in who get tenters next to them,” ­Gardiner said.

“I find it very much pits neighbourhood against ­neighbourhood, resident against resident and shows real, frankly, bias.”

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