Victoria’s city council has proposed that Centennial Square will once again be a place where people can shelter.
The decision comes after council spent the day discussing solutions to the city’s homeless encampment situation.
The idea to allow camping in the square again came from Coun. Geoff Young. Not all councillors were in agreement, with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, Coun. Jeremy Loveday and Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe voting against the idea.
Young said homeless individuals camping in Centennial Square does put pressure on downtown businesses.
“I don’t want to do anything to harm our downtown business community any more than they’re already being harmed but at the same time, there are some benefits to Centennial Square. There’s a lot of hard surface and it’s extremely well policed,” Young, adding there’s both police and security in the area.
“I think in many ways Centennial Square is not an inappropriate location.”
— Joe Perkins (@JoePerkinsCHEK) September 3, 2020
On Tuesday, the city had shut down the homeless encampment in the square due to public safety concerns, including a rise in criminal activity.
City staff had suggested in a report that the council prohibit sheltering in the square and six other parks, but council decided to remove Centennial Square from that list.
Under new rules voted on today, people camping in Centennial Square and other parks open for overnight camping must keep their tents four metres apart. Tents or other shelters can only be three metres by three metres wide.
Young said he thinks the rules will work in Centennial Square’s favour.
“I think with the new spacing requirements, it won’t hold a lot of people, they’ll be farther apart. We may make sure the tents are actually occupied by people and not other illegal activities. But I think having the tents there to serve as a reminder and perhaps expose the councillors to what the people living around the parks are being exposed to,” Young said.
City council also decided to ask BC Housing to extend the use of the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre as a shelter until Dec. 31, 2020.
Staff will be putting the decisions into a bylaw and a vote to adopt it will be done next week.
Council also debated whether to open up Royal Athletic Park as a 24-hour sheltering place for up to 60 people as a response to the growing Central Park encampment. That will be voted on next week as well.