James Bay residents opposed to outreach tent proposed for Avalon Street near Beacon Hill

A City of Victoria proposal to erect a community warming tent on Avalon Street, to provide services to people sheltering in Beacon Hill Park, has rankled James Bay residents who say the tent will cause further safety issues in the neighbourhood. An outreach worker assisting people living in the park said the proposed location doesn’t work for them either.

The proposed location of the warming tent — providing food, warm clothes and harm reduction services — would temporarily close a portion of Avalon Street near Douglas to vehicle traffic and remove 13 street parking spaces.

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About 20 James Bay residents gathered on Avalon Street Tuesday to share their concerns with Victoria Coun. Stephen Andrew.

Jim Turk, who lives in a condo building at the corner of Avalon and Douglas streets, said his building has already dealt with two attempted break-ins in as many months. He’s concerned the community care tent will result in an increase in crime and drug use on the quiet street.

Lorne Brownsey, who lives on Huntington Place which intersects with Avalon Street, said he’s sympathetic to the plight of people living in the park who are living in terrible conditions.

“But let’s find some options that don’t transplant problems to other places,” he said.

Marg Gardiner, president of the James Bay Neighbourhood Association, said the group was not consulted about the proposal and residents have serious safety concerns.

City staff have been trying to find a location for a community care tent since a volunteer-erected tent was removed from the park in November. The City of Victoria approved a $6,500 grant for a community care tent in James Bay next to Beacon Hill Park which will be operated by the Red Cedar Cafe Society, a non-profit which provides free meals to people in need.

A staff report by Thomas Soulliere, the city’s director of parks, recreation and facilities, acknowledged that the location “is not without challenges” and will “have impacts on the immediate neighbourhood.”

Andrew said it’s clear residents have serious concerns and he will communicate them to his fellow councillors when they consider the issue at Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting. Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has said the city is working with the B.C. government to find homes by March 31 for people sheltering in parks and Andrew said he’s confident that goal can be achieved.

Niki Ottensen, an outreach worker with the Backpack Project who provides food and warm clothes to people without homes, said people are suffering without the support provided by a community care tent. However, the Avalon Street location isn’t ideal for people living in the park.

“Nobody wanted that location,” she said. Ottensen said the best location would be in the parking lot across from the ­Beacon Hill Park petting zoo, where it is close to those who need it and will not disrupt the neighbourhood.

But a community care tent cannot be located in the park because of the ongoing lawsuit between the Friends of Beacon Hill Park and the City of Victoria which alleges that 24/7 camping violates the trust governing the park.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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