Victoria’s mayor moves to further restrict overnight sheltering in city parks

CHEK

In Victoria, there may soon be even fewer parks for people without homes to sleep in.

Through a new motion being considered Thursday, Mayor Marianne Alto is looking to ban overnight sheltering in three more parks.

“Part of this is making sure sheltering options are in all parts of the city, but so are non-sheltering options,” Alto told CHEK News. “This is trying to find that balance.”

The move would take the city from eight parks with washrooms open to overnight sheltering across the city to five parks: Oaklands Park, Victoria West Park, Irving Park, Gonzales Park, and Pemberton Park.

As of Monday, a ban on overnight sheltering in Stadacona Park was also put in place.

Ken Rivard, 30, is currently sheltering in Topaz Park. He first lost his housing three years ago when the pandemic hit. He took COVID pay, but while he was off, he broke both arms and couldn’t return to work as a cook.

“Nobody wants to be out here, nobody chooses to be out here,” said Rivard.

He’s currently living in Topaz Park with roughly nine other regulars. All have been kicked out of supportive housing.

“Definitely something needs to be done because clearly we’re causing an issue to local residents, and we don’t want to be,” said Rivard. “No one wants a problem around here, we just want a place to live.”

READ ALSO: Demands for housing grow as bylaw, police move homeless campers out of Topaz Park

If the ban is passed at city hall, it’ll mean Rivard will once again have to pack up and find another park to call home.

“I just want to go back to eating regular food, not just cereal all the time,” said Rivard, who isn’t allowed to cook in Topaz Park.

For volunteer outreach workers like Amy Allard, banning sheltering in more parks isn’t a solution for those like Rivard, who are stuck on the street, blacklisted from supportive housing, and typically battling big mental health and addiction issues.

“There’s really no alternate for them, so that’s why we’re recommending the micro-communities,” said Allard with See Spring Mental Wellness Coalition.

Allard says offering the city’s hardest-to-house low-cost micro-communities where people can lock their belongings and access charging stations, portapotties, and wifi will allow them to work through the issues that keep them unhoused.

“There are already outreach teams that are funded to visit this population, so they could just transfer over to these sanctioned campsites,” said Allard.

Victoria’s mayor is on board with the idea of micro-communities.

“That is absolutely a fantastic idea and certainly one we’ve asked the province about repeatedly,” said Alto. “We’ve had significant success in Tiny Town on Caledonia…We’re urging the province to look at that as a short-term option.”

Mayor Alto says they’ve identified several small city-owned properties where communities like this could be built but have not heard back from the province.

BC Housing told CHEK News they don’t “consider them to be a solution for long-term, purpose-built supportive housing.”

“Some of the gaps are: the units themselves are very small and can be cold in winter/hot in summer, and they lack private washroom and kitchen facilities, which BC Housing considers an essential component to empower residents of supportive housing so they can live independently,” said Liam Butler, a representative for BC Housing.

“They also pose a number of logistical challenges as they require washroom and shower trailers, lack dining and meeting space for residents, and require significant security. As such, they have very high operating costs when compared to a purpose-built supportive housing building where those pieces are built into the original design.”

Butler pointed to six supportive housing projects that will soon open up in the CRD, where “construction is underway” and “most projects will be completed this year.”

  • 865 Catherine St., 45 homes
  • 959 and 953 Balmoral Rd., 60 homes
  • 1053 and 1075 Meares St., 50 homes
  • 1176 Yates St., 37 homes
  • 2933, 2941 and 2949 Albina St., 52 homes
  • 1909 Prosser Rd., 39 homes
Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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