North Park willing to help homeless, but wants other neighbourhoods to share load

The North Park Neighbourhood Association says the number of tents in Central Park has doubled to more than 80 in just a week and it’s calling on the city to develop a plan that would see other neighbourhoods shoulder some of the load.

The association said in a statement that it’s prepared to accept a “drastically reduced” number of people without homes camping in either Central Park or Royal Athletic Park during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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But the community’s participation has to be part of a “distributed approach that sees each neighbourhood accommodate a fair and equitable share.”

The association has been tracking the number of tents in Central Park and said the numbers doubled after the city shut down an encampment in ­Centennial Square due to ­criminal activity.

Collin Spikes, one of the people camping in Central Park, said it’s no surprise that the numbers increased.

“The overabundance is because they closed Centennial,” he said. “They knew where they were going to move to. It was the closest location and bylaw [staff] all dropped them off right here.”

Sarah Murray, the association’s executive director, said the result is an encampment that’s far more concentrated than anything in the much larger Beacon Hill Park, which has been the focus of criticism for months.

“Obviously, this isn’t working,” Murray said at Central Park on Tuesday. “You’re hearing it from the people who are living here, and you’re hearing it from the people who are living around here.

“No one’s happy with this. The folks who are here aren’t happy with having been dropped off by bylaw 20 feet from a ­playground.”

Victoria city council approved a series of bylaw changes last week that, once adopted, could reduce the number of tents in Central Park to 21 by limiting the size of structures to three metres square and requiring them to be at least four metres apart. In addition, council will consider another motion Thursday that asks staff to investigate options for limiting sheltering at Central Park and providing access to temporary shelters, showers and washrooms at Royal Athletic Park.

The association, however, is clear that it will accept sheltering at only one of the locations.

Sean Kahil, who lives across from Central Park and sits on the association’s board, said the neighbourhood wants assurances as well that others will be doing their part.

Murray added that the city should be looking at places other than parks — such as parking lots or parkades — in developing a model for dealing with the situation.

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