Victoria council has unanimously approved new rules for bylaw officers. The changes are supposed to increase deterrence and reduce the ‘enormous’ volume of materials being impounded.
In a report to council, bylaw says an average of five to 10 tonnes are being impounded weekly.
The new bylaw will shorten the holding period from 30 days down to 14 days, aims to better define things like “rubbish” and “hazardous waste,” and changes the pickup location from Centennial Square to multiple storage facilities across Victoria.
But unhoused people and the groups that serve them say the changes were made without any consultation and will create more suffering.
“I spent six hours last night trying to dry my blankets,” said Tammy, who is currently sheltering in Vic West Park.
But many donations just end up in the landfill. City of Victoria bylaw says half of the items they collect are never claimed.
Never claimed or just not there?
“These are not illegal materials, they are their belongings. They have been donated by people, by local businesses, and five to 10 tonnes of this stuff heading to the landfill is astonishing,” said Niki Ottosen, an organizer/operator with The Backpack Project.
“When they try to go get it back, either it’s not there, it’s missing, it’s deemed wet or garbage, or they get it back with pieces missing…Things that make people human, they’re indiscriminately throwing away.”
Tammy says she can attest to that. She says bylaw has taken her last remaining personal belongings, clothes, tents, tablet, blankets, bike tires, then the bike itself.
“You know how many nights they left me here with nothing? And I had to sleep on the ground,” said Tammy. “They make it hell. They make us not want to live.”
Tammy used to be an Amazon driver, she had a good life, made good money. A simple car crash sent her life spiraling.
“I lost everything,” said Tammy. “Now I live in a tent and bylaw harasses me all the time, to the point where I tried to kill myself.”
Bylaw missing consultation with unhoused people
Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) says the current bylaw doesn’t get to the root of issue.
“The number one thing we hear from unhoused people is that there needs to be better accountability with bylaw. There’s nothing [in the new bylaw] that mandates that a bylaw officer has to photograph or write down things they take away,” said Douglas King with TAPS.
“In the bigger picture? None of this helps the housing crisis. None of this helps homelessness. If anything it puts people backward,” said King. “And that’s the story we hear from homeless people, when they lose their belongings when bylaw confiscates their things, that’s two steps backwards from where they need to be going.”
CHEK News reached out to Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto and councillor Krista Loughton for comment. Both say they were either unable or didn’t have time.
The bylaw is set to be adopted next Thursday.