British Columbia

City of Victoria allows camping in parks so homeless can physically distance

With the increase of homeless people camping along Pandora Avenue in downtown Victoria, the city is now allowing the homeless to sleep in tents in city parks as a temporary measure so they can physically distance from others.

Mayor Lisa Helps says Topaz park and Royal Athletic park will have access to services

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says in a prosperous country like Canada, people should not be still living outside. (Deborah Wilson/CBC)

The City of Victoria won't be enforcing rules on camping in parks, as part of an effort to let people experiencing homelessness follow instructions to physically distance themselves from others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the increase of homeless people camping along Pandora Avenue in downtown Victoria, the city is now allowing the homeless to sleep in tents in city parks as a temporary measure.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told On the Island host Gregor Craigie the city has chosen Topaz park and Royal Athletic park as designated sites where harm reduction services, food services and security will be set up. Both were also chosen because they have running water so people can wash their hands.

"The prime minister gets on his podium everyday and says 'stay at home.' Sadly for some Canadians, home is a tent so that makes this really, really complicated," said Helps.

Helps said bylaws that outline what time a camper can set up and take down their tent will not be enforced by officers at any parks at this time. 

Moving inside

Helps said the long-term plan is to get homeless people inside but with limited city-owned facilities that can be used, B.C. Housing has had to help find places like vacant motels for homeless people to stay. 

In her daily address on the City of Victoria Facebook page on March 31, Helps said B.C. Housing has acquired additional motel rooms for people to stay, bringing the total to number of secured spaces to 115.

As for residents who are frustrated with the situation along Pandora Avenue, Helps said she wishes there was a simple fix for the problem but there just isn't one.

"Of course, when people don't have homes or when they don't have access to the supports they need, it doesn't look pretty for anyone," she said. 

B.C. Housing said in a statement it's in the process of finalizing agreements with facility providers. It said local health authorities will identify people who require self-isolation and the organization will work with them to make these spaces available to those people. 

There are now over 1,000 cases of COVID-19 in B.C.

With files from On The Island

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