People sheltering in Beacon Hill Park and their supporters rallied outside Victoria City Hall on Friday to protest against the dismantling of a community care tent they say was vital to people without homes. Two showers, built by a grassroots group of volunteers, were also removed from the park.
More than a dozen Victoria police officers were in the park Friday morning to support bylaw officers taking down the large beige vehicle-storage tent on grass near the petting farm. Police tape was set up around the tent as bylaw officers loaded items into a truck.
One person was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer and was taken to police cells and released, said department spokesman Const. Cam MacIntyre.
The tent has served as a shelter since Oct. 30 for providing coffee, food, water, blankets, jackets, tarps and harm-reduction supplies to people living in the park.
Shae Perkins, who does not live in Beacon Hill Park but provides many of the services out of the tent, purchased the structure.
“It’s an incredible resource. We do so much more than just [providing] a warming tent. We’re there to provide survival supplies, we’re there to provide community connection,” Perkins said, noting that volunteers have connected people without homes to outreach workers.
“If people show up at three in the morning in the park and they don’t have a tent, they don’t have a sleeping bag or tarp or any way to keep warm, we’ll provide them safe refuge.”
Two wood and sheet-metal showers were dropped off in the park on Nov. 7.
The showers used a water cistern and the wastewater drained into a storm drain, which the city said is in violation of the sanitary sewer and stormwater bylaw.
Perkins said volunteers have been cleaning up debris and any needles found in the park to address concerns raised by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, a community group fighting to end 24/7 camping in the park.
Last week, Victoria councillors agreed on a plan to end around-the-clock camping in city parks by March 31, as long as people currently living outside are offered housing or shelter space before the deadline.
City of Victoria spokesman Bill Eisenhauer said in a statement that the “unauthorized structures” removed by bylaw officers, including two large tent structures, the two homemade shower units and a large cistern, will be stored until claimed by the owners.
“We understand the desire of individuals to want to assist people sheltering in the park. However, we cannot allow structures without permits in parks, especially ones that are using gas generators and that pose fire risks, health and safety risks, and are damaging the environment,” Eisenhauer said.
He said city staff have had many discussions in recent weeks with those operating the tent to try to resolve the issue, including exploring alternative locations outside the park.
“They have simply declined to work with us to find an alternative solution, leaving us no choice but to remove the structures today,” Eisenhauer said.
Perkins said he was in touch with the city about moving the tent to parking stalls near the watering-can water park along Douglas Street, but he said he was consulting with the community about whether that location would be feasible.
Eisenhauer said the City of Victoria is working with B.C. Housing and the provincial government to find housing for people living outdoors.
He pointed to the city’s $100,000 grant program to support organizations that can provide mobile hygiene and other social services to people sheltering outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city is also providing funding to Our Place Society so its shower facilities can operate from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
— With files from Lindsay Kines