There was a handful of tents in Topaz and Beacon Hill parks Tuesday but the fields largely remained empty one day after the City of Victoria announced the parks would become temporary homeless shelters in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The emergency measure is being taken to try to clear out a growing tent city in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue. More people have been setting up tents each days as shelters reduce numbers to maintain social distancing.
Ian MacKinnon lives directly across from the all-weather fields at Beacon Hill, which have been designated as a temporary homeless tenting site.
“It’s a good large open area so people can maintain separation so that’s what’s needed. People need to be somewhere,” MacKinnon said.
The city is promising the homeless campers will have access to washrooms, hand-washing facilities, food and medical help and there will also be security.
“I guess we kind of have to do what we need to do during this time, I don’t necessarily like the idea,” said Dennis Dubinsky who lives near Beacon Hill park.
“Maybe we have to set up these quarantined areas for the homeless but it has to be policed too,” he said.
There will also be a temporary camp set up at Royal Athletic Park (RAP) within the next week for the street population with the greatest health needs.
Margaret Bell is strata president for the Calais, which sits directly across the street from RAP and worries what it will mean for the safety of the building and its residents.
“There’s a desperate need definitely but I don’t think this is an answer,” said Bell.
“I’m concerned that with the influx of street people into the Royal Athletic Park we will encounter more difficulty with our underground parking where we already have concerns, we have sleepers, drugs users, people using our insecure parking as toilets, so we don’t look forward to this at all,” she said.
Roy Fletcher, chair of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, worries this solution won’t be temporary at all.
“Any time in the future the government can say well we’ve used it for this before so you have no exception,” he said.
The City of Victoria has repeatedly insisted this is just a short-term measure and that the goal is to move everyone to indoor facilities in a matter of weeks.
BC Housing has already purchased the former Girl Guides building on Mason Street for those in the street community showing symptoms of COVID-19.
“There will be a site where people who are homeless and experiencing symptoms can go to be tested to get the health supports that they need,” said Mayor Lisa Helps in her daily public address Monday.
“We’re in a provincial emergency so the province has declared a state of emergency which means they can take over any of the city’s facilities to shelter people in, so as we speak the province is going through an assessment of which city facilities would be best to move people inside,” said Helps.