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Victoria adds four more parks to its no-sheltering list

As of Nov. 9, overnight sheltering will be banned in Stadacona, Topaz, Hollywood and Regatta Point parks
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A homeless camp at Vic West Park, which has generated complaints about 24/7 camping. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Overnight sheltering in Stadacona, Topaz, Hollywood and Regatta Point parks will be outlawed as of Nov. 9.

Victoria council voted 8-1 Thursday in favour of a bylaw amendment that adds the four parks to the list of parks where sheltering is not allowed. The list already includes Beacon Hill Park and Central Park.

“This council is moving forward on homelessness and on sheltering in parks and on streets. Make no mistake about it, this is a provincial responsibility, and I accept that the province is working on it … but they’re not rolling it out quickly enough,” said Coun. Dave Thompson.

Coun. Jeremy Caradonna said the city has received a huge return on the $25,000 it invested in the parks relocation co-ordinator. Pacifica Housing was hired in the summer to offer housing, better shelter or housing assistance to the 16 people who were sheltering in the four parks in June.

A city staff report noted all 16 either received housing or better shelter, are no longer sheltering in the named parks, or declined offers of housing assistance.

Caradonna said Pacifica managed to find shelter for people without shuffling them to other parks, while creating conditions to return parks to their intended purpose.

“We’ve also created a viable pathway for moving away from sheltering in parks,” he said. “We want to get people indoors to get them to supports, to get them care and to return parks to what they’re meant to be.”

While the majority of council was behind the move, some councillors were disappointed that there was no mention in the report of the broader implications of banning sheltering in parks, or adding other parks to the list, a possibility that had been discussed earlier in the year.

Coun. Marg Gardiner said the amendment amounted to picking winners and losers.

“This is about neighborhoods, it is about people, and it’s about the danger that people are being put in, especially our elderly,” she said, noting people in James Bay have been dealing with entrenched sheltering in parks for four years.

She said many older people feel they can no longer walk the streets safely at various times of the day.

Gardiner and others around the council table had hoped to add Irving Park in James Bay and Vic West Park to the list of parks where sheltering is banned due to the number of complaints about 24/7 camps.

But staff told council Thursday another report to be presented within three weeks would outline the implications of a broader camping ban.

Coun. Chris Coleman said it’s not about picking and choosing winners but a careful analysis of needs. “And we will have the opportunity to revisit this list of four at any time,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to go ahead and do this as we have promised the public.”

Coun. Matt Dell argued it would be a “massive mistake to put all this on hold in hopes that we’re going to satisfy everyone.”

A B.C. Court of Appeal ruling in 2009 found that in the absence of available shelter beds, it’s unconstitutional to prohibit someone from erecting temporary shelter in a park.

A city bylaw allows people experiencing homelessness to shelter overnight in designated parks only from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but neighbourhood residents have complained the bylaw is not being enforced and campers are keeping their gear around all day.

With Thursday’s ruling, as of Nov. 9 only five parks with ­washroom facilities will ­continue to allow overnight sheltering — Irving Park, Vic West Park, Pemberton Park, Gonzales Park and Oaklands Park

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

aduffy@timescolonist.com