Victoria police say officers are working with City of Victoria bylaw staff to bring “sustained enforcement” to Topaz Park to curb day-time sheltering amid community concerns.
Police officers and bylaw staff have provided “significant advanced warning” to those sheltering in the park to remove structures in accordance with the city’s overnight sheltering bylaws, VicPD said in a release Monday.
“Many of these structures have become semi-permanent fixtures,” said police.
In Victoria, overnight sheltering is allowed in several parks, including Topaz, but only between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. during daylight savings, or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in standard time, according to the city’s website.
Shelters can’t be in playgrounds, sports fields or community gardens, among other areas, and must be no bigger than nine square metres and spaced four metres apart.
“The enforcement will continue on a daily basis for a sustained period in order to ensure those who shelter in the park overnight are prepared to follow the bylaws by removing their structures by 7 a.m. each day,” said VicPD.
According to police, calls for service to the Topaz Park area are also up 60 per cent over last year, which is “the highest they have been in three years.”
They say many of the calls are “due to concerns of public disorder and assistance calls in which police officers are required to help keep City of Victoria Bylaw staff safe as they enforce City of Victoria bylaws.”
Officers have responded to 87 calls in the area so far this year compared to 53 in 2022 and 68 in 2021. This year, 25 were assist calls, 23 were for public disorder, 17 were “other,” 12 were for traffic, six were for property, and four were for violence.
CHEK News reached out to VicPD asking how many calls resulted in charges, but the numbers weren’t provided.
“For calls for service that result in charges there can be a significant period of time between the call for service itself and Crown approving charges, depending on the complexity of the investigation,” said Bowen Osoko, spokesperson for VicPD.
In December, a teen exchange student was sexually assaulted by two men in the park. She escaped and ran to safety, where she told an adult about what happened.
“In addition to the increased calls for service, officers are responding to concerns from area residents, sports teams, and other park users that the area has become unsafe,” said VicPD.
“The city, on a daily basis, at least three or four times a week, sends bylaw here — right next to the kids in the skate park — to clean up needles and naloxone kits,” nearby resident Jeff Peters told CHEK News last week.
“And then the illegal campers move to the edge of the park, and then five hours later when they’re gone, they move back and the residents go through another night of hell,” he said.
Anyone concerned about safety in a local park can reach VicPD at 250-995-7654 ext. 1.