Central Park closing Jan. 4 for repairs after flooding; campers moved to parking lot

Central Park will be closed to 24/7 camping as of Jan. 4, the City of Victoria announced ­Tuesday, following last week’s decision to move dozens of people without homes from the flooded park to the parking lot of Royal Athletic Park.

Thomas Soulliere, Victoria’s director of parks, recreation and facilities, decided to close the entire park so city staff can remediate the damage caused by heavy rain and flooding on Dec 22.

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Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the long-term future of the park, including whether to allow camping, will be decided by council.

About 31 tents have been erected on wooden platforms inside a fenced area of the Royal Athletic Park parking lot.

Since Dec. 23, volunteers with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Greater Victoria Extreme Weather Protocol and the North Park Neighbourhood Association have been helping people without homes move to Royal Athletic Park, providing them with new sleeping bags, cots, tents and tarps. Jen Wilde, co-ordinator with the Extreme Weather Protocol, said B.C. Housing staff have been on site checking people’s housing applications and have found housing for one person.

A handful of tents remain in Central Park, next to Crystal Pool. Wilde said some of those people wanted to move after much of the set-up activity and media attention had died down. She said it’s important to note that there’s no one-size fits-all housing solution for people with unique challenges.

“When you’re dealing with people who are in a state of crisis like this, it takes different levels of support,” she said. Victoria’s Extreme Weather Protocol is not operating this year, as the shelter beds that typically open during cold or wet weather are already in use in response to the pandemic.

Sarah Murray said about 50 volunteers with the North Park Neighbourhood Association have been at Royal Athletic Park through the holidays to help with the transition. The Salvation Army and Peers Victoria Resources Society have been delivering food.

Helps said Royal Athletic Park is a temporary solution until B.C. Housing can find more housing for people without homes.

B.C. Housing and GSL Group, which operates Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, are in talks about again using the facility as a temporary shelter for people without homes. No decisions have been made.

“We’re all waiting on pins and needles for the province to continue its negotiations with the operator of the arena to get that up and running,” Helps said.

The arena, which was used as emergency shelter for 45 people from May to September, is sitting unused because the Western Hockey League has delayed the start of its season because of the pandemic.

B.C. Housing said in a statement it is working with the City of Victoria to move people indoors as quickly as possible. The housing agency said it is in discussions with owners of facilities and non-profit operators with the goal of offering additional housing options early in the new year.

“This is complex work and requires the conversion of facilities to ensure they are set up safely for accommodation as well as the hiring and training of people to operate the facilities,” B.C. Housing said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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