British Columbia

Residents troubled by litter, damage in Victoria-area park where homeless sleep

A group of people sheltering in tents in a Saanich park are leaving garbage and other debris, causing damage and limiting access to parts of a nearby creek, according to area residents.

Saanich council to amend parks bylaws to deter people from setting up permanent campsites

People camped out in Cuthbert Holmes Park in Saanich are leaving messes behind. A community association wants council to take action. ( Vera Wynn-Williams)

A group of homeless people living in tents in a park in Saanich in Greater Victoria are leaving garbage and other debris behind, causing damage and limiting access to parts of a nearby creek, area residents say.

The local community association says the mess is causing anxiety about safety in the public park, making it off-limits for some who typically frequent the area.

As a result, the association has called on Saanich council to take action.

Gabe Epstein, president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, says every time someone walks through Cuthbert Holmes Park, they inevitably come across litter, tarps, tents  and evidence of campfires.

Up to 10 people sleep in Saanich's Cuthbert Holmes Park each night, leaving behind garbage and personal belongings. ( Vera Wynn-Williams)

"There are also no bathrooms around so, you know, it's a question of what people do," Epstein told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

Campsites set up near fish fences have made it difficult for educational groups to access the creek to learn about salmon migration, he said.

"That program is being curtailed by people sleeping nearby," he said. 

While personal safety is a major concern, Epstein worries that campfires and generators in the park could cause a fire. 

Long-term solutions

Epstein says cleaning up the refuse is a great short-term solution, but the community association wants the municipality to prevent people from setting up camp in the park altogether.

Educational programs around the salmon migration are limited due to safety concerns, because people have set up camp near fish fences like the one pictured above. ( Vera Wynn-Williams)

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell says while people have a right to sleep, Saanich council is looking into how it can amend its parks bylaws to give the local police department the authority to ask campers to leave in the mornings.

"People still probably will be able to set up overnight," he said. "Our community engagement division will be in there in the morning asking people to collect up their goods and hopefully that will be a deterrent for camping in the park."

The Gorge Tillicum Community Association says pallets are dragged into the park by campers to create makeshift walkways during the rainy season in Cuthbert Holmes Park. ( Vera Wynn-Williams)

The municipality estimates up to 10 people sleep in the park on average each night.

"It's a large natural park but it's not large enough to support this behaviour," Atwell said.

Atwell said it's been difficult for police to monitor and mitigate hazards created by the situation, such as campfires and debris left in the park.

"At the moment, they're simply overwhelmed by the number of campers in the park," Atwell said.

Atwell is also calling on the provincial government to consider Saanich for future affordable housing and housing for Vancouver Island's homeless population. 

With files from On the Island

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