City council has given approval for continued to clean-up after those sheltering overnight in Victoria parks.
Council heard there is continued demand for camping in parks despite councillors’ impressions that more housing units and sheltering are available. Although staff recommended $300,000 for cleanup, council approved $200,000 in the draft 2018 budget, the same amount as last year.
Thomas Soulliere, the city’s director of parks, recreation and facilities, said he wished he could report a decrease in need, but that is not what he has found.
“Our experience over the past year has indicated that demand is quite steady,” he said, adding they were on track to exceed last year’s budget. “The demand is certainly there and safety is priority for our team.”
Councillors debated whether spending on park cleanup was the best use of money, rather than opening more shelters or creating housing for homeless people.
Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Mayor Lisa Helps said until there is more access to housing and shelter space, the city needs to allow the parks for camping.
“We’re not there yet,” said Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, adding people continue to be turned away from shelters because they are over-capacity.
“Parks are unfortunately a place where people need to shelter. That’s going to be the case until people can get more housing,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.
Coun. Geoff Young said he would like to see a focus on opening up shelter beds and banning camping, as the park space was being damaged by campers, and park space was less enjoyable for others.
“People used to like living above a park. Now you live above a park, and you’re likely to get violent, profane, screaming fights below your window,” he said. “You’re likely to have people coming in and plugging into your outdoor plugs, or taking and using your water taps.
“People who want to use the parks early in the morning may find they’re essentially occupied and turned into campgrounds.”