Victoria council considers plan to close street for homeless warming tent

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WatchVictoria council is considering a proposal to close a James Bay street to set up a temporary homeless warming tent for Beacon Hill campers. April Lawrence reports.

On a rainy Victoria day, a group of James Bay residents are meeting with Victoria city councillor Stephen Andrew to explain why their street isn’t the place for a warming tent for homeless Beacon Hill campers.

“You only need to look at how confined this little neighbourhood is to see what the impact of it would be, of blocking off Douglas Street completely, establishing these tents, this would be a gathering spot, a continuous gathering spot,” said James Bay resident Lorne Brownsey.

We’re worried about neighbourhood security we’re worried about health issues,” he said.

“This is the most disastrous plan we’ve ever seen anywhere,” said Marg Gardiner with the James Bay Residents’ Association.

The proposal is for Avalon Road to be closed to traffic at Douglas and for several tents to be set up for people camping in the park to come dry off, warm-up, and get some food and medical care.

But even the mayor admits the location isn’t ideal.

“The best place for it, in my opinion, is the gravel playing field in Beacon Hill Park, but that violates the Beacon Hill Trust,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.

“We cannot knowingly violate the law so we’re stuck finding a location adjacent to the park,” she said.

READ MORE: Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society going to court in attempt to get campers out

Those who’ve been helping the campers say a community tent is the most efficient way to deliver goods and services.

“So there are people that are going into Meegan, into Beacon Hill park, every single day and dropping off things people need, and it’s an uncoordinated humanitarian effort,” said Gordon Miller with James Bay United Church.

Miller says the church supports the project and he argues it could actually improve the situation in the neighbourhood.

“[Studies show] when there are community supports in place things like crime, things like phone calls to the police, things like disruptions to the community, those things go down when supports are in place, so having a community care tent where the un-housed can feel supported and part of a community is actually going to make the neighbourhood safer,” he said.

But some argue it’s the gathering itself that’s the issue.

“What it’s going to do very quickly is concentrate all the illness in the park, because let’s go to the warming centre and see what they can do, and that doesn’t make sense from a public health perspective to congregate them all together,” said retired family doctor and Avalon Road resident Rick Hudson.

Council will debate the issue Thursday but Mayor Helps says even if it’s approved the tents would only be up for 78 days because the province has promised to move everyone living in the park indoors by the end of March.

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April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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