Centennial Square homeless camp shutdown means more campers in other parks

WatchThe shutdown of the Centennial Square homeless camp means more people will be sheltering in neighbourhood parks. Tess van Straaten reports.

Nikko Linders has been trying to get housing for three years.

“You’d think after four hotels there would be enough room for everybody,” Landers says. “But there’s still about 100 or 200 out here that don’t have rooms.”

He’s now packing up his tent at Victoria’s Centennial Square after the city issued an order under the parks bylaw to shut down the makeshift homeless camp due to public safety concerns.

“We didn’t take this decision lightly,” says the City of Victoria’s director of parks, Thomas Soulliere. “The criminal element that was identified recently by Victoria Police certainly tipped things.”

There’s been a major spike in drug-related and violent crimes in the area since the camp started – meaning everyone now has to be out by Tuesday evening.

“They gave us brochures with maps of other parks to go to,” says Landers. “I was hoping for a room, a hotel room, or housing of some kind.”

There are almost a dozen parks, including Oaklands, Hollywood Park, Pemberton Park, Regatta Park, Vic West Park and Irving Park that campers are being directed to.

“Those locations have been specifically identified because they’re areas we have washrooms, hand washing stations and water fountains,” Soulliere says.

RELATED: City says Centennial Square campers will be relocated to ‘other’ places in September

Campers are being discouraged from going to Beacon Hill Park, where there have been major issues and threats of violence.

But city officials admit moving people to other parks isn’t a solution.“At the end of the day, the best option for these folks is to get indoors,” Soulliere says. “Parks are not designed or managed to be shelters. We’re dealing with an emergency situation right now.”

At the root of much of it is mental health and addiction issues and Victoria’s mayor says the province and federal government need to do more in terms of health supports and treatment facilities.

“These are the people who have been left behind time after time after time,” Mayor Lisa Helps says. “It’s heartbreaking and manifesting in a whole bunch of challenges for a whole bunch of people from people living in parks, to people living near parks, to our downtown business community.”

As for Landers, he’s now moving to Central Park and hopes he’ll get help soon.

A map showing available parks for homeless people in the City of Victoria. Photo: City of Victoria

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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