344 Victoria homeless people housed but others say they were left out

344 Victoria homeless people housed but others say they were left out
WatchWhile people have moved out from Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue, those camping in Beacon Hill park say they weren't offered housing. April Lawrence reports.

Shea Smith would rather be playing his guitar indoors but after seven months living with his wife and dog in a tent in Beacon Hill Park he says he still can’t get housing.

“We’ve been on every list. We’ve asked for housing multiple times,” Smith said.

So when the out-of-work welder heard they were offering hotel accommodations to people camping at Topaz Park he went over and signed up but says he never got the call.

“It has nothing to do with us, our behaviour or anything, [that] we’re rebels or hold outs or anything, no we all want housing. It’s just the fact of where we were camped,” he said.

Smith says he and his wife became homeless about a year ago after the vehicle they were living in was towed. He says they moved to Topaz Park first but then were told by Victoria bylaw officers to move to Beacon Hill Park where they’ve been ever since.

Beacon Hill Park was originally slated to be one of three temporary homeless camps during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was later dropped from the list.

The province says in the past month it has provided temporary housing to 193 homeless people at the Topaz Park encampment and another 151 camping on Pandora Avenue.

As of Thursday morning, Topaz Park was empty and the gates were closed while a few campers remained on Pandora. The province said outreach workers were continuing to work with them and Victoria Police said it was using its discretion on an hour by hour basis and people continued to pack up and leave the site.

READ MORE: ‘They do need to leave’: Deadline day for Victoria homeless camps on Pandora, Topaz

But while the province says everyone has been offered indoor accommodation a growing number of tents in places like Princess Avenue and Beacon Hill park tell a different story.

A 61-year-old woman who only wanted to be referred to as Linda said she had been camping at Topaz Park with her husband but wasn’t offered housing and wasn’t sure where they were going to go.

“We stayed at the park for the last week, two weeks now, and I don’t know what the plan is, there is no plan,” she said.

The growing number of tents in Beacon Hill has neighbours nervous for their safety.

“I get two or three emails a day of people who want us to take action of the permanent camped in the park,” said Roy Fletcher, Chair of Friends of Beacon Hill Park.

“It’s a difficult situation and I’m afraid we don’t have a solution other than we cannot allow large permanent camps to set up in the park,” he said.

But Shea Smith insists they have nothing to fear.

“I think the park is kind of safer because of us because we watch out for things like that, and we don’t want anybody who’s going to be doing those kinds of activities to be part of us,” he said.

He says he knows of 50 people personally still waiting for housing. The province has promised more is on the way.

Those still looking for housing are urged to visit 941 Pandora Avenue or call BC Housing at 1-800-257-7756.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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