Demands for housing grow as bylaw, police move homeless campers out of Topaz Park

Demands for housing grow as bylaw, police move homeless campers out of Topaz Park

A large team of Victoria bylaw and police officers moved into Topaz Park Tuesday afternoon, taking down structures and telling people to pack up.

They say the stepped up enforcement is needed after a rise in concerns from the public.

“We’ve heard concerns that sports teams don’t feel safe using the space, there’s concerns with drug dealing, increase of violence, garbage, fires,” said VicPD spokesperson Const. Terri Healy.

READ ALSO: Neighbours worry about safety at Topaz Park as summer approaches

Advocates say people have been camping next to the new Topaz skate park because they were pushed out of other areas.

“I don’t think anybody thought this spot was a good idea, there is the skateboard park for children right here, and the people who live here themselves expressed they feel uncomfortable being so close,” said Amy Allard, Lived Experience coordinator for Sea Spring Mental Wellness Coalition.

But Allard says most of those at Topaz were kicked out of a nearby supportive housing complex and simply had nowhere else to go.

“We need to really address what it is that’s causing people to be evicted from the places they’re supposed to have wraparound services and be okay in,” she said.

No one packing up wanted to speak to CHEK News on camera but said they have no choice but to simply move to another, more shaded area of Topaz or find another park.

“People will pop up somewhere else, then they’ll get shuffled along from there, so until the province steps up and provides real housing for people, not shelters, not transition programs, this is going to continue,” said Nicole Chaland, co-lead for the Housing Justice Project.

“A friend of mine who’s homeless calls it the cycle of stupidity, which is a pretty good term because it’s just going to be happening again and again. We know what works, housing, it’s hard to get a job if you don’t have a roof over your head, people need housing.”

The authorities admit the situation is challenging but say they were left with no choice.

“I think we understand and appreciate that we’re talking about complex social issues here, so are we moving the problem to another particular area? Possibly we are, but we can’t allow this level of entrenchment to continue,” Healy said.

A mental health nurse with the VicPD Co-Response Team (CRT) was on hand to try to help connect people with services, but those who provide outreach say that without a vastly different way of doing things, the cycle will simply continue.

“Right now, they’ll go 100 metres away and be right back because there is nowhere else, and when you have this many belongings and you feel like you can’t leave them anywhere securely, it just paralyzes you,” said Allard.

“Every time you phone VicPD write Premier Eby and ask him to build housing that people can afford,” said Chaland.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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