Irving, Vic West parks may be added to Victoria overnight sheltering ban


Irving and Vic West parks are being considered as additions to the overnight sheltering ban list, pending the people currently sheltering there are offered indoor shelter or housing.

On April 18, Victoria’s committee of the whole voted 7-2 to offer all people sheltering in the park indoor shelter or housing, and that if that work is complete then to add the two parks to the overnight shelter ban list by Aug. 1, and for staff to report back with at least three indoor or outdoor shelter spaces excluding parks by June 15.

The motion was brought forward by Coun. Jeremy Caradonna, who said this motion comes after residents raised concerns about the situation in these two parks.

“The idea here is to focus on Irving Park and Vic West Park because they have turned into encampments and the situation is tense in those two parks, and something needs to change,” Caradonna said. “We know it’s been hard on everyone, both housed and unhoused, and we certainly receive a lot of correspondence about these two parks in particular.”

“Parks are not intended to be sites of permanent habitation, they’re not set up for it. I get why it happened on a wide scale during the pandemic, but the pandemic is over, and it’s time for us to turn the page and figure out what comes next. The status quo is simply not working for the housed or the unhoused.”

Speaking to the need to identify specific spaces for people to shelter in the absence of sheltering in parks, Coun. Krista Loughton said many people have reached out to her to express their concerns about restricting sheltering in parks meaning there are fewer places for people to go.

“The reality is people need a place to go, all of us must put ourselves somewhere. The number one solution is adequate affordable housing, after that it’s transitional housing and shelter, and if these spots are not available, then people shelter in parks,” Loughton said.

“If we continue to wind down sheltering in parks, naturally, we are going to need to find more suitable places for people to sleep when they are in need.”

There are currently only five parks in the City of Victoria where overnight sheltering is allowed and if this motion to ban sheltering in Irving and Vic West passes in council, that would reduce it to three, only leaving Oaklands, Pemberton and Gonzales parks.

Coun. Dave Thompson and Stephen Hammond were the two who voted in opposition to the motion.

Thompson noted he was concerned that if these two parks are added to the restricted list, then it will just displace people to the few remaining parks where overnight sheltering is allowed.

“What’s going to happen with this if it goes ahead and succeeds as it’s written is those two parks are going to be shut down to sheltering and people are going to move to other parks, and they’re going to be forced to move to parks that are further away from services,” Thompson said.

“And my own opinion, of the case law, is that that is going to be very problematic for the bylaw. As well as more importantly, providing a major disservice to the people who are most vulnerable and make it far less likely for them to succeed in finding their way out of homelessness.”

Hammond said he was opposed to the idea of identifying places in the city where sheltering would be allowed due to the impact it would have on those neighbourhoods.

“I also have a lot of concerns about if this comes about, then what other parks and what other neighbourhoods are going to be disrupted because of the negative behaviours that seem to follow when some of these things actually go on,” Hammond said.

“I also echo the concerns of my colleague who from a legal perspective, if the only ones we’re left with are further afield, I don’t think that’s going to pass the legal test. I want people out of parks, sheltering, I want people to have homes.”

RELATED: Victoria moves one step closer to officially banning sheltering in four city parks

Jordan Cooper, director of services with Our Place Society, says further restrictions on sheltering in parks can lead to issues with overcrowding in the few spaces that remain available.

“It’s concerning because then people are having to congregate in one area and there’s a lot of people that feel unsafe having to do that, and so that’s why people do spread out and try and find their own area where they do feel safe,” Cooper told CHEK News.

“And not only are we limiting the amount of parks that people can put up a tent, but we also have seasonal shelters that close at this time of year so then people that are actually in shelters, have no choice but to move back outdoors.”

Cooper says he supports the move to identify areas that people can shelter and hopes those areas come with supports.

“Our street outreach team is speaking with people that are out tenting every day and each one of them is saying they want to get out of the tent, they want some housing, and they want the supports around that,” he said.

“To have their mental health supported and also, people are telling us that they would like to go to detox they would like to go to treatment but they feel like there’s a lot of barriers to that.”

Laura Brougham

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