Sarah Pullman and her daughter visit Beacon Hill Park at least once a week. Pullman says she hasn’t noticed a difference since homeless campers moved into the park.
“I’ve enjoyed the park throughout the pandemic, since the first person put up their tent, and I haven’t experienced it as dangerous at all,” she said.
“It’s a big park, there’s lots of space.”
Pullman, along with a few other neighbours, started a petition Wednesday evening, asking for compassionate treatment of homeless campers in parks. Fewer than 24 hours later, it already has more than 400 signatures.
“It’s important to me to teach my daughter that people without homes are still people and that they are daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, maybe even parents themselves,” Pullman explained, adding that they started the petition because they were concerned about the “anti-homeless rhetoric” going around.
This new petition counters another one started in June by residents concerned about needles, garbage and threats in Beacon Hill Park. That one, titled “Save Beacon Hill Park” has nearly 22,000 signatures.
In a statement to CHEK News, the city said bylaw officers count 226 tents or structures throughout Victoria as of July 28. Of those, 116 of them are in Beacon Hill Park and 110 are scattered throughout the other 12 parks where sheltering is permitted.
This includes Cecelia Ravine Park, where nearby residents say they’re facing similar problems to neighbours of Beacon Hill.
“I’m hearing from residents all over our community about how afraid they’re feeling and unsafe,” said Michelle Peterson, a Burnside-Gorge resident, adding that neighbours have reported seeing needles and crime.
However, Peterson says this is more than just an “us versus them” issue and the community is not against the homeless population.
“Everybody needs a place to live, no question,” she explained.
“We need to make sure that they are supported well enough that they can integrate and become part of the community so that we are not at odds with each other, so that we’re not in conflict with each other. Because it’s not that anybody in our community thinks it’s OK to be homeless. What they’re upset about is the impact. It’s about the behaviours. It’s about the social disorder.”
Peterson said the community needs to work together to address this instead of arguing about where campers should go because as it is right now, the encampments are a solution that doesn’t really work for anyone.
The permanent solution, according to Our Place Society CEO Julian Daly, would be housing with adequate support. In the meantime, however, something else can be done to help the situation.
“Having certain areas within parks designated for camping that had facilities, had portable washrooms, were managed and there were support services and outreach workers,” he said.