The City of Victoria is seeking a court order to require people sheltering in Beacon Hill Park to relocate from ecologically sensitive areas to other parts of the park.
An application was filed Friday in B.C. Supreme Court for an order to prohibit sheltering in about three-quarters of the 74-hectare park to protect rare and fragile ecosystems, said Mayor Lisa Helps.
Areas around playgrounds, playing fields and footpaths are also off-limits for tents. About one-quarter of the park will remain available for temporary sheltering.
Noting rare and endangered plants in the park have been damaged, Helps said the city is trying to find a balance between protecting people who have nowhere else to go and conserving areas of biodiversity.
“The intact Garry oak ecosystem in the province, only five per cent of it remains, and part of that is in Beacon Hill Park.”
Helps said city staff and outreach workers have been meeting regularly with people living in the park for weeks to ask them to move out of sensitive areas, and many have voluntarily relocated. The city is seeking an injunction for those unwilling to move.
She stressed that no one is being told to leave the park or any other park in the city, but they are being asked to move out of sensitive areas.
Many tents in the park are set up in secluded areas, away from main walking paths. Moving people from sensitive areas might mean some campers end up in more heavily used parts of the park, where they are more exposed to other park users, Helps said.
“It may feel like there are more people camping as they move out of those secluded areas.”
Helps acknowledged the growing tension in the city as a result of people living in the park.
Thousands have signed a petition to “save” Beacon Hill Park, citing concerns about safety and damage to the environment.
“I wish we had a magic wand to wave to fix the problem, but there are no magic wands,” Helps said. “Homelessness is a complex issue that has been caused over many years and exacerbated by the pandemic, and unfortunately … it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
Helps said the city, like many across the country, experienced a first wave of homelessness when shelters were forced to reduce their capacity to allow for physical-distancing.
She expects a second wave as government subsidies are removed and people can’t pay their rents.
She called on all residents to find a way to share Beacon Hill Park and other areas of the city.
Rev. Al Tysick, founder of the Dandelion Society, which supports the street community, said it’s reasonable to ask people to move out of environmentally sensitive areas.
Tysick said he hopes the Beacon Hill Park move will follow the model for Topaz Park, wheresupports were provided and outreach workers were on hand when campers were moved out.
There are about 100 people living in Beacon Hill Park, and more living outside in smaller encampments in the region.
About 1,000 people are living in 40 encampments across the province, Helps said.