Calls for new strategy at Victoria encampments grow

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WatchThere are calls for a new plan as Victoria faces the challenge of housing people during this pandemic. Voices on both sides of the issue say what the city is doing now isn't working, putting public spaces and people at risk. Julian Kolsut reports.

Some people on the front lines of homelessness in Victoria say it is time for a new strategy as more tents go up and tensions within encampments grow.

“When any of the encampments are beyond 15 or 20 tents, and then you’ve got folks interested in dealing, supplying or enforcing, and then you have violence and crime escalating,” said Don Mctavish, Victoria Cool Aid’s director, Housing & Shelters

He and others say the current situation of allowing daytime camping with few supports is not sustainable.

“A large encampment without any supports is unsustainable. A small group with supports, maybe that’s a family unit, maybe that’s a way forward if we can’t get everyone into housing,” he said.

“I think the province has done an amazing job of making housing happen, but there is still folks out there.

Neighbours near the encampments are also growing more frustrated. The South Park Family School Parents Action Committee says damage and safety are major concerns.

Change may be on the way, Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps outlined in a letter she is considering amending the bylaw to prohibit camping near the school.

The North Park Neighborhood Association says a more concrete plan is needed.

“We requested that a criteria be implemented for all the parks where outdoor sheltering is permitted,” said Sarah Murray of the North Park Neighbourhood Association.

“Things like proximity to playgrounds, sports equipment, outdoor gyms, environmentally sensitive areas, as well as nearby residences, the availability of alternative green spaces.”

She says then proper resources could be allocated, and that the lack of direction and the quick expansion of the camps has also posed a risk for those living in them.

“One of the folks sheltering here in the park when there were only 25 shelters here he said to me ‘there are too many people here,’ he is already feeling the stress of interpersonal relationships and everyone living in close proximity with limited resources,” said Murray.

At least one city councillor says its time to re-evaluate.

“It is the fact of the daytime camping itself that has given rise to the problems,  I think council members are perhaps beginning to recognize that,” said Councillor Geoff Young

If there are going to be any changes, it won’t be until next month when council meets again.

Julian KolsutJulian Kolsut

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