British Columbia

City of Victoria dismantles showers for homeless campers at Beacon Hill Park

Around 30 police and city bylaw officers moved into Victoria's Beacon Hill Park Friday morning to dismantle two unauthorized showers that were constructed by a grassroots community group earlier this month for homeless residents.

Bylaw enforcement officers and police also removed 2 unauthorized tents and a large cistern, city says

The city says it cannot allow structures that pose fire risks, but homeless advocates say it took them nearly a month to fundraise, construct and install them and wonder whether a different solution couldn't have been found. (Craig Turney/Facebook)

They were up and running for three days, and now they're gone. 

Around 30 police and city bylaw officers moved into Victoria's Beacon Hill Park Friday morning to dismantle two unauthorized showers that were constructed by a grassroots community group earlier this month for homeless residents.

Officers also removed a large cistern and two tent structures that were all being used by the campers.

City spokesperson Bill Eisenhauer said "[the city] understands the desire of individuals to want to assist people sheltering in the park. However, we cannot allow structures without permits ... especially ones that are using gas generators that pose fire risks, that have health and safety risks and are damaging the environment."

Eisenhauer added that the city moved the structures into storage, where they're available for their owners to claim. 

A month to fundraise and install showers

Craig Turney, who helped build the showers, said it took homeless advocates nearly a month to fundraise, construct and install them. 

He said that when the city turned off the park's hand washing stations they'd hoped to use as a water source, the group instead obtained an 800-gallon cistern, a solar panel and a pump to power the showers on their own. 

Turney said the group didn't want to wait for a permit to install them, even though the city had offered money from its $100,000 grant program created to help community groups provide mobile hygiene and other social services to the needy during COVID-19.

So a decision was made to install the temporary showers immediately, he said.

'A shameful act' says city councillor

Even though city staff directed their removal, Coun. Sarah Potts condemned the move as a "shameful act" on social media, adding she's been "in active conversations" with homeless advocates on "solutions." 

The city moved the structures into storage, where it says they can be claimed by their owners. (Shae Perkins/Facebook)

Shae Perkins, who's been living in the park and helping operate the showers, said he was shocked when officers also removed the two tents full of community donations and personal belongings, without letting anyone collect their things first. 

"They arrived at eight in the morning and started setting up police tape and dismantling everything," said Perkins. "They refused to speak to anyone the entire time."

1 person arrested

Victoria police Const. Cam MacIntyre said officers arrived to "keep the peace" and said a woman was arrested for "assaulting an officer." She was then taken to the police station before being released. 

"An investigation is ongoing," said MacIntyre. 

Perkins said after the community's hard work installing the tents and showers, it's "completely devastating" to see it all gone.

"It's a tragedy that the city would rather uphold colonial bylaws than allow the community to care for each other," he added.

The city said that it's committed to supporting homeless persons and is working closely with B.C. Housing, community groups and the provincial government to house the city's nearly 200 homeless people as quickly as possible. 

Eisenhauer noted that the city has given additional support to Our Place Society to expand shower facilities for homeless people in the city 13 hours a day, seven days per week.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now