Victoria mayor pushes to ban sheltering at more parks amid call for pause

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A proposal to ban sheltering at three more Victoria parks in just over a month’s time is being met with a call to reconsider from those supporting the city’s vulnerable.

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto is spearheading a motion calling for Topaz, Hollywood and Regatta Point parks to be added to the list of public spaces where overnight sheltering is prohibited. The motion will go in front of councillors Thursday (June 22).

“City Council continues to review and adjust the balance of uses in city parks, recognizing the need for recreation and gathering opportunities and spaces for sheltering until adequate housing options are provided by provincial agencies,” Alto’s motion states.

The motion’s preamble talks about how the city relaxed policies around letting people stay in parks as indoor shelters were reduced during the pandemic. It goes on to say a historic amount of supportive housing has been built throughout the city and provides a breakdown of where people living outdoors are choosing to shelter, but neither of those claims cite where the information comes from.

Victoria council last week supported a ban on sheltering in Stadacona Park come November. The mayor’s motion said after that move and the additional three parks, five city parks with washrooms will still allow sheltering.

“No longer allowing overnight sheltering in these parks addresses a geographical concern that overnight sheltering limitations favour one neighbourhood over another,” Alto’s motion said, adding that the move balances availability and prohibitions among neighbourhoods in the centre, north, south and west of the city.

The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness is flagging that the direction may be premature and is requesting council for further reflection being acting on the additional bans. The organization’s executive director said further displacing people will likely create more trauma for those impacted.

“It is pretty disturbing,” the coalition’s Sylvia Ceacero said of the motion.

Moving people who are already in dire situations to other parts of the city will only reinforce the “us and them” notion, Ceacero said. Constantly making those individuals move makes them feel unwelcome and like they don’t belong, the coalition head added.

“That for any human being is very traumatic,” Ceacero said, adding those on the streets often come from marginalized communities and already have very little.

The motion adds there’s limited open space at Topaz Park after recent renovations, there’s limited shelter space at Hollywood Park due to an increase in sports happening there and the small Regatta Point Park has little room as it’s bordered by the Galloping Goose bike trail.

Ceacero said the city’s homelessness situation is difficult on everyone, houses and unhoused, but asked council to be mindful of the consequences of Thursday’s vote. She hopes the additional bans are put off until there are assurances viable housing options are available.

The executive director also invited the city to review the coalition’s framework for sanctioned, self-managed and supported encampments prior to moving forward.

Enhanced sheltering enforcement by police and bylaw teams was applied at Topaz Park earlier this month.

READ: Victoria eyes end date for Stadacona Park sheltering

READ: Victoria homeless pitch solutions as no change expected after park shelter dispersed