British Columbia

Residents near Victoria's Beacon Hill park petition against homeless campers

The encampments at Beacon Hill Park have grown since city councillors temporarily allowed homeless campers to leave their tents up in the park during the day in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Petition to disallow camping in the park has garnered thousands of signatures since its launch

As of late May, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said there were about 90 people living in tents in Beacon Hill Park, a popular park in downtown Victoria. (James Roberts/CBC)

A petition to disallow homeless campers from staying in downtown Victoria's Beacon Hill Park during the day has garnered thousands of signatures since its inception.

The encampments at Beacon Hill Park have grown since city councillors temporarily allowed homeless campers to leave their tents up in the park during the day — they were previously required to take them down every morning — in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Cynthia Diadick, who has lived in the neighbourhood near Beacon Hill Park for over two decades, launched the petition.

"I've lived here for 22 years now, and I've never see it look worse," Diadick said. 

Diadick says some of the common complaints she's heard from her neighbours include finding syringes, mattresses, and human excrement. She said she's also heard concerns about the park's ecology, especially when there are campers setting up their tents and making fires.

The petition has garnered over 4,000 signatures since its launch, something Diadick is pleased with.

"This is a family park," she said, saying it's not her responsibility to figure out where the campers should go in the meantime, pointing out the province had purchased motels to use as housing. 

"It was never designed for tenters and I hoped that the petition would get the mayor and council to give us some sort of information as residents."

Many small camps are scattered throughout Beacon Hill Park. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Homelessness is not a crime: lawyer

Catherine Boies Parker, the lawyer who represented homeless campers in the case that was known as the "right to sleep" challenge, says homelessness in Victoria is a deep, long-entrenched issue.

It was in 2009 that the city's previous bylaw, which went so far as to ban overnight camping and at one point, even public sleeping, was overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

"The court found it was important to protect all three of the parts of Section 7 of the Canadian Charter — life, liberty and security of the person," Parker said. 

Parker says in circumstances where there isn't enough shelter for everyone, it is a constitutional right for people who are homeless to have access to basic services — which includes the need to have some place to live and be safe. 

Even the previous bylaw, which allowed only overnight camping where police could rouse sleepers every morning, was very hard on people, he says. 

"It takes an enormous physical and psychological toll on a homeless person to have to pack up all of their belongings and carry them on their back all day." 

She says the steps the city and province have taken to address the needs of homeless people are a positive step, but until that probably is fully addressed, there will always be people who need to shelter themselves in the park. 

"There's good strides being made, but there's a very big problem that's been allowed to grow for a very long time," she said. 

"It can't be illegal for homeless people to exist and do the things that everybody needs to do."

Camping at Beacon Hill is supposed to be discussed at an upcoming City of Victoria council meeting on June 25.

With files from All Points West, On The Island

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