Victoria mayor proposes ban on sheltering at Beacon Hill Park

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is proposing a prohibition on ­sheltering in Beacon Hill Park for at least two years to allow it to recover from the impact of months of all-day camping.

In a report going to Victoria council on Thursday, Helps and councillors Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe ­recommend adding Beacon Hill to a list of 23 parks where camping is prohibited for a two-year period to allow areas affected by 24/7 sheltering to be repaired.

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With roughly eight tents left in Beacon Hill Park, down from about 100 at the peak, Helps said prohibiting sheltering in the park is “the next logical step.”

The timeline reflects a ­preliminary estimate that the park’s lawns, vegetation and animal species will need at least two years to recover through a combination of natural processes and work by city staff.

Beacon Hill Park has become a flashpoint during the pandemic. Physical-distancing requirements forced shelters to close or reduce their capacity and the city allowed all-day sheltering at Beacon Hill.

While many continued to enjoy the park, others complained about the presence of homeless people and said they no longer felt safe.

The report asks city staff to report back in May 2023 on the status of the park’s remediation, so council can determine whether to extend the sheltering prohibition.

Helps is hoping by that point, sheltering outdoors will no longer be necessary because sufficient housing, shelter beds and services will be in place.

“For the first time in ­decades, I actually believe that it’s ­doable,” Helps said.

“Everybody is mobilized. There’s a plan in place. What we just need to do is accelerate it,”

The province has spent millions of dollars to buy hotels and build shelters, allowing about 600 people in the city to move indoors over the past year. Helps said she expects money will continue to flow from the federal and provincial ­governments, because they ­recognize the need to house ­people and have seen the division created in response to visible homelessness.

The province is also working to create complex-care housing for people with significant ­mental-health challenges, which will be a key component to ­ending homelessness, Helps said. It’s something other B.C. mayors and local service providers have called for to house people who don’t fit in existing housing options.

“Let’s imagine a different reality, because we are actually closer than we’ve ever been to achieving that reality,” Helps said.

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