Victoria won't use Beacon Hill Park as site for homeless people

The City of Victoria has abandoned plans to use Beacon Hill Park as a temporary tenting site for people without homes during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mayor Lisa Helps said on Thursday that the city and B.C. Housing will instead focus on establishing sites at Topaz Park and Royal Athletic Park until people can be moved indoors.

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Helps said Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Island, advised the city to focus on two sites instead of three in order to “maximize efficiency” and get the shelters open as soon as possible.

The city is under pressure to reduce crowding in the 900 block of Pandora Avenue, where people are unable to keep a safe distance from one another to prevent the virus from spreading.

Helps said Topaz was a more logical choice than Beacon Hill because there are indoor washrooms near the planned site, which will offer meals, handwashing stations and up-to-date health information.

A staffed shelter at city-owned Royal Athletic Park will serve people with more acute mental-health and addictions challenges.

Helps reiterated Thursday that both sites are temporary and that the plan is to move people indoors as soon as possible.

“The City of Victoria with B.C. Housing and Island Health are working really hard to make sure that, in this pandemic, there’s no one out on the street,” she said.

“In a health emergency, no one should be outside.”

Helps said Island Health has secured 30 beds where people without homes can be isolated should they become infected with COVID-19. She did not say where the beds are located, except to say they are not in a hotel.

In addition, the city has secured 35 motel rooms for 30 days to house people without homes who have no COVID-19 symptoms.

“Emergency Management B.C. will be paying for the rooms, not city taxpayers, and that’s how it should be in a state of provincial emergency,” Helps said.

In other news, city council will consider bylaw amendments to waive penalties for late payment of utility bills.

“Now that seems like a very small thing, but at this point in time every dollar kept in people’s pockets matters,” Helps said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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