A petition demanding that Beacon Hill Park no longer serve as a campground or tent city has garnered thousands of signatures.
Created by Cynthia Diadick four days ago, the petition calls on the City of Victoria to stop allowing homeless people and campers to remain overnight at Beacon Hill Park on a temporary basis. So far the petition has over 5,000 signatures.
Last month, City of Victoria councillors approved a motion that allows for all-day camping at Beacon Hill Park. They also agreed to not to allow continued enforcement of an existing bylaw prohibiting sheltering in parks from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. until June 25.
In the petition, Diadick writes that there are now more than “90 homeless and RV campers now camping” in the “majestical” Beacon Hill Park and that numerous large structures and encampments of multiple tents that create unsafe and unsanitary conditions have sprouted up throughout the city-owned park.
“There are wood stoves, beer kegs, chop shops and tents stationed in clearly marked sensitive Garry Oak Ecosystems . . . These ecosystems are home to more plant species than any other terrestrial ecosystem in coastal British Columbia. Many of these species occur nowhere else in Canada. They are biologically significant and are being destroyed,” the petition says.
The petition suggests that the children’s play area has been entirely taken over by tents and that children are playing near needles and human waste. It also suggests that park users are being followed, harassed and that it is now “dangerous” to walk through the park at night.
“The picnic area by the children’s play area has been entirely taken over by the homeless. With five tents in the small area and two picnic tables being used up, you can no longer picnic there,” the petition reads.
Victoria mom Elysia Nicholls, who uses the park with her son and her dog, says she has concerns about human feces and other hazardous waste in the park but she supports the campers, because she too, has been homeless.
“I get what it’s like and I have a lot of compassion but the safety of the kid and the dog just broken glass and bottles and paraphernalia I hope could get dealt with,” she said.
David Arthur Johnston won a precedent-setting court case more than a decade ago allowing homeless people to sleep in city parks and with nowhere else to go, he is now camping at Beacon Hill.
“As long as COVID, coronavirus measures are in place this is the most responsible, not obtrusive and most useful spot I can be,” Johnston said.
The petition is also opposed to the multiple RVs and campers that are parked in and around Beacon Hill Park, suggesting that there has been “strong public opposition” to having camper vans using Beacon Hill Park like a “free” campground.
“There are now 15 RVs and camper vans in and around Beacon Hill Park (including two RVs from Alberta and one from Manitoba) in addition to garbage and many tents,” the petition states.
Diadick’s petition also argues that the City of Victoria is violating its own bylaws by allowing homeless to occupy the Garry Oak ecosystem, as well as provincial law. It goes on to suggest that increased police funding is needed because the neighbourhood is no longer safe.
“We can’t have Beacon Hill Park serve as a tent city and criminal epicentre as it currently is,” the petition says.
Victoria’s mayor says she hears the concerns.
“I know there are people who don’t feel safe right now there are people who feel they can’t use the park and that’s a big concern for me,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.
But she says there is nothing the city can do at this point, rather that it’s the provincial and federal governments that need to find a solution.
“Moving people from Beacon Hill without having anywhere else to go just moves the challenge around the city it doesn’t solve it,” she said.
The province says all 505 indoor sites its secured since March are full and 30 Beacon Hill campers are currently on their list for housing.
Victoria City Council has voted to allow the campers to stay in Beacon Hill until June 25 but will revisit the deadline then and follow the lead of the provincial health officer on whether to extend it.