The City of Victoria has agreed to use its bylaw officers to clear encampments in local parks starting in May, as part of a new deal signed with the province Monday.
The memorandum of understanding between the province and city formalizes each side’s responsibilities for an April 30 deadline to end 24/7 sheltering in local parks.
The province has agreed to fund housing spaces, as well as addictions, nursing, outreach and harm reduction services at those sites, under the deal. The city has agreed to use bylaw and police to enforce a new bylaw that will forbid camping in parks outside of a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. window.
“A key part of this MOU is our expectation and the city’s commitment that they will enforce their bylaw at the end of April,” said Attorney General David Eby, B.C.’s minister responsible for housing.
“It’s a really hopefully rare situation where that would have to be the case.”
Eby said the province has committed to having enough shelter spaces available so that there will always be indoor space for a person in a park. He added that “no one will be forced inside” but they will be also told clearly they can’t stay in parks.
“I’m hopeful most people are willing to come in voluntarily, but our expectations and understanding is the city knows it’s going to be enforcing its bylaw,” he said.
The B.C. government says it has created 224 spaces at various sites around the city, including temporary shelters at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre and 70 new spaces at two undisclosed locations opening next month. That, combined with 50 rent supplements, should be enough to accommodate approximately 200 people who have been sheltering in local parks by April 30, said Eby.
“To the best of my knowledge we are on schedule to meet our commitments around the end of April,” he said Monday.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said while it may look like the city has to do the hard work in enforcing its bylaws in May, the province has agreed to just as much heavy lifting by becoming a partner willing to continue to fund housing spaces in the region.
“The city’s responsibility is to enforce our bylaws but it’s a shared responsibility between the city and the province,” she said. “People might see the city as having the heavy lifting, I see the province taking huge leadership to house the hundreds of people outside in this region.”
Helps said local residents will be able to full use their parks again in May.
“The benefit of the city and province working together is that we won’t have people sleeping outside,” she said.
“And what we’ve seen over the past year during the pandemic is having people sleeping outside is not good for anyone – it’s not good for people who want to use the parks, it’s not good for people who have to live in parks. So this concerted effort of working together, the city and province will obviously benefit people living in tents but also benefit the whole community as well.”
The agreement also stipulates that the city will be responsible for fencing off parks to prevent future encampments, as well as remediating the parks if they are damaged from people sheltering there. The city also agreed to apply for up to $2.5 million in federal and provincial grants, to be used to help local residents with cleaning, waste management and bylaw enforcement in parks.
Victoria will also work with the Capital Regional District to locate additional buildings and land that the province could use to building housing.
Prior to this new MOU agreement, the City of Victoria had already voted to end daytime camping in parks around the region.
This means those camping overnight in Victoria parks will have to pack up and move on between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.