The City of Victoria is seeking a court order to enforce sheltering rules in Beacon Hill Park.
Last Friday, the City filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court seeking an order to require homeless people who are sheltering in the park to use permitted areas only. It would prohibit them from sheltering in environmentally and culturally sensitive areas as designated under the City’s Parks Bylaw.
The Garry oak ecosystem in Beacon Hill Park is part of a protected and endangered natural system, of which less than five per cent remains in B.C.
“This is a challenging time for everyone, especially for people in our city who don’t have a home,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “While we acknowledge previous court decisions that recognized the rights of people experiencing homelessness to shelter in municipal parks, we all have a responsibility to protect sensitive ecosystems and the natural environment.”
The 200-acre park itself has 50 acres of land available for temporary sheltering. About 93 acres of the park are culturally or ecologically significant and areas are “experiencing significant damage,” Helps said in a briefing last week.
For weeks, staff and community outreach workers have been meeting with about 100 people sheltering in the park to request they move to less sensitive areas, according to a City statement. The meetings will continue daily to assist with moving and connecting the campers with provincial housing supports and health services. Many have already relocated and the City expects everyone to move willingly.
According to the City, the relocation plan is “being coordinated in a compassionate way” that is safe for those sleeping outside while indoor shelters are closed or operating with reduced services due to the pandemic. About 180 people are estimated to be sheltering in parks in Victoria.
Helps noted that those sheltering in Beacon Hill Park will be more visible as they move out of ecologically sensitive areas and into more open areas. She hopes residents will be understanding of their need for safe shelter and support. Helps acknowledged that some residents feel no one should be camping in Beacon Hill Park but also noted that homelessness is an issue that’s been caused over years and has been exacerbated by the pandemic. She requested that park users not take photos of people sheltering or their sites and said this is an opportunity to share the park.
Victoria expects the B.C. Supreme Court will hear the application during the week of July 27 and if an injunction is granted, people who have not moved to permitted areas of the park will be ordered to do so.