At least 100 people marched down Pandora Street to Victoria’s city hall Friday, calling for an end to so-called “street sweeps,” something which happens every morning when bylaw and police enforce the city’s no-sheltering bylaws.
A rally calling to end bylaw raids on Victoria’s unhoused community living in parks or the streets is gearing up to march along Pandora Street to Victoria city hall. @CHEK_News pic.twitter.com/MQRu7xYcYZ
— Kori Sidaway (@korisidaway) April 21, 2023
In the process of structures and tents being taken down protestors say unhoused people are being subjected to harassment and violence.
“The street sweeps need to end,” said Kati George-Jim. “It’s leaving people without their personal belongings, personal identification, memorabilia, shelter, let alone their clothes.”
Al Larson is living in and out of shelters. Right now he says he sleeps on a bed of cardboard outside. He’s seen bylaw sweeps sometimes take away people’s ability to work when they confiscate certain belongings.
“If they’re tools it hurts, right?” said Larson.
Those a part of Friday’s rally say the city of Victoria’s enforcement of sheltering bylaws is inhumane given the current housing crisis.
“Bylaw is being conducted in a way that people are feeling criminalized, dehumanized,” said George-Jim.
The city of Victoria told CHEK News in a statement if someone is sheltering longer than they’re allowed, seizing their belongings is a last resort, an action taken only after there’s been an attempt to educate and a warning has been issued.
“City of Victoria Bylaw Services approach to enforcement of bylaws relies on a graduated enforcement that is focused on achieving compliance rather than the imposition of penalties,” said City of Victoria spokesperson Colleen Mycroft. “If they are refusing to engage with outreach workers, housing professionals or bylaw staff…escalating enforcement tools may be utilized to resolve a situation.”
Those protesting the bylaw enforcement say that based on their observations while doing outreach in the community they’re not seeing that scaled response.
“That may be their protocol, however, that is not the reality,” said George-Jim. “It’s straight to criminalization and straight to arrest. And using police as the intermediary instead of community services, community aid, and relationship building with any person involved in sheltering.”
Whatever materials are impounded by bylaw are kept for 30 days at the bylaw office, where people can come to retrieve their belongings. Those protesting though say many items go missing.
“It’s either mislabeled or put in the garbage or it’s something entirely different,” said George-Jim.
They’re calling on the city to end the enforcement of the no sheltering in parks bylaw, to fund community efforts instead and stop the seizure of belongings.
An earlier version of this story stated there were hundreds at the event, while the original aired version said there were “at least a hundred.” It has since been updated to reflect this difference.
READ MORE: Calls for change as bylaw officers remove Victoria homeless encampment