Sheltering overnight at Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park could soon be banned.
Victoria city councillors are set to debate a motion that would prohibit overnight sheltering at Beacon Hill Park during their upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting on June 3.
Brought forward by Mayor Lisa Helps and councillors Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe, the motion recommends the ban be implemented for a period of two years — ending in 2023 — so that Beacon Hill Park can recover and remediation work can be completed.
According to a report written by Helps accompanying the motion, Beacon Hill Park has environmentally sensitive areas — Garry Oak ecosystems — and ongoing sheltering at the park has had a “substantial” impact.
“Although the extent of the impact is not yet fully known, as staff have yet to undertake a comprehensive assessment, the preliminary estimate is that it will take at least two years to restore and remediate the park,” the report reads.
Overnight camping at Beacon Hill is currently permitted, although councillors recently opted to end daytime sheltering at parks.
The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 saw indoor shelters close their doors or significantly reduce services, leading to a rise in homeless people sheltering at city parks, particularly Beacon Hill.
In an effort to help prevent the spread of the virus, councillors agreed to allow all-day camping at Beacon Hill Park and opted to stop enforcement of a bylaw prohibiting sheltering in all city parks from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — a decision that was reversed several weeks ago.
In the weeks that followed, Beacon Hill’s homeless population ballooned dramatically, with more than 100 individuals sheltering at the popular park — sparking a petition demanding an end to all-day sheltering at the park that has garnered more than 30,000 signatures to date.
Today, however, there far fewer homeless people living in the park as the majority of them have been relocated into housing.
According to the city staff report, there are currently eight structures in Beacon Hill and the goal is to house everyone.
“We have been operating for many years – and in particular during the pandemic – within a reality where homelessness in Victoria has become normalized. In recognition of this reality, we have accepted the need for people to shelter in city parks even as we worked toward permanent solutions to homelessness. Now we’re moving on to achieving a functional zero plan so that people can go somewhere safe indoors when they lose their housing,” the report reads.
The report goes on to note that while the pandemic has “disproportionately” impacted the most vulnerable, it impacted everyone in a negative way and there are many who feel “cut off” from being able to access city parks because “so many people were sheltering” in them. It also highlights the fact that many many people apparently believe Beacon Hill Park is a campground, citing reviews on TripAdivsor.
“Beacon Hill Park is not a campground. Long before the pandemic, there were misleading posts in Trip Advisor and other places, advertising Beacon Hill Park as a good place for travellers to camp. In addition to the necessary remediation work that needs to happen, closing Beacon Hill Park to all sheltering for a period of two years is an opportunity to clearly reset this perception among travellers and tourists,” the report states.
Should the motion be approved, the ban would begin immediately and last until 2023, at which time there would be a review and possible extension, depending on the condition of Beacon Hill Park.