Victoria’s Central Park currently has more than 120 tents but that is about to change.
“It will be pretty significantly different,” said North Park Neighbourhood Association Executive Director Sarah Murray.
That’s because of new city bylaws requiring tents to be a certain distance from playing fields, playgrounds, schools and each other. That makes nearly the entire park now off-limits to campers.
“It means Central Park will have closer to 20 or 21 shelters versus what is right now 121,” said Murray.
The idea is that the tents will be more evenly distributed throughout other city parks, like Oaklands, which currently has none.
But the people who live around those other parks are already starting to fight back. Some residents in the Oaklands community are circulating a petition urging city council to come up with indoor alternatives to prevent the need for park camping while others are demanding the city take their park off the list of allowable tenting sites.
The city’s mayor admits the situation is not ideal but there are solutions in the works.
“There will be more indoor spaces coming available in November through the Regional Housing First program, so ideally we’re moving people from parks into housing rather than from park to park,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.
There is growing frustration around Central Park about how long it’s taking for campers to start moving out. While the new bylaws were passed nearly a month ago, nobody has packed up yet. Still, camp leaders say people will cooperate.
“Once they’ve been shown they can move to any of the other parks quite comfortably with the support mechanisms already in place, I think it’ll make the move a lot easier for people,” said camper Sandy Fisher who has been working with the City of Victoria to help educate people about the new bylaws and their options for where they can go.
There is no specific deadline on when the campers at Central Park have to be out of the off-limit areas. Helps says she’s confident they will do so voluntarily but if not bylaw will have to enforce the regulations.