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Victoria moves toward banning sheltering in two more parks

City staff have been asked to work with B.C. Housing and other service providers to find alternate shelter for those currently camping out in Vic West and Irving parks

The City of Victoria took a step Thursday toward banning overnight sheltering in two more city parks: Vic West Park and Irving Park in James Bay.

Council voted 7-2 in favour of having city staff and the city’s sheltering relocation co-ordinator partner with B.C. Housing and other service providers to find indoor shelter for those currently camping out in the two parks.

The goal is to find alternate accommodation before a ban on sheltering in those parks comes into effect by August, when council plans to amend its Parks Regulation Bylaw.

“The idea here is to focus on Irving Park and Vic West Park because they have turned into encampments and the situation is tense in those two parks and something needs to change,” said Coun. Jeremy Caradonna.

“The intention here is to continue the process of getting people indoors. In a country as rich as ours, as organized as ours, as compassionate as ours, it’s simply unacceptable to expect that people should be left to live permanently in parks.”

Caradonna, who put forward the motion alongside Coun. Krista Loughton, said they have been waiting for conditions to be right to continue with the city’s plan to eventually restrict sheltering in all parks.

He said the right conditions include making sure there is a pathway for the approximately 20 people who have set up tents in the two parks to find housing.

Council has asked city staff to identify at least three indoor or outdoor locations — not including parks — where sheltering could be permitted, and to report back with potential sites by June 15.

Neighbouring residents have complained that tents in Irving Park and Vic West are becoming permanent structures, and they have been harassed by the occupants. Some residents have said they are no longer willing to use the parks.

Banning sheltering in the two parks has come up several times at council over the last year, but until Thursday no action has been taken.

Last fall, council banned overnight sheltering in Stadacona, Topaz, Hollywood and Regatta Point parks. Sheltering was already banned in Beacon Hill Park and Central Park.

In total, the city has 23 parks where sheltering is not allowed at any time.

Councillors Dave Thompson and Stephen Hammond opposed Thursday’s motion, though both said they agree with the idea of moving people out of parks and into shelter.

Hammond’s concern is there will be no security at whatever landing site is identified for those currently sheltering in the parks.

“If we do come up with at least three indoor/outdoor locations, I know it will be a gigantic hardship on those neighbourhoods,” he said, noting places like the Tiny Town shipping-container community on Caledonia Avenue have created problems for some immediate neighbours.

Thompson said he couldn’t support the motion, since when overnight sheltering is outlawed at Irving and Vic West parks, people will just move to other parks, and those new locations are likely to be farther away from the services many of them need.

A B.C. Court of Appeal ruling in 2009 found that in the absence of available shelter beds, it’s unconstitutional to prohibit someone from erecting temporary shelter in a park.

A city bylaw allows people experiencing homelessness to shelter overnight in designated parks only from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., but neighbourhood residents have complained the bylaw is not being enforced and campers are keeping their gear around all day.

If a ban on sheltering in Irving and Vic West parks happens later this summer, there will be only three parks with ­washroom facilities left that will ­continue to allow overnight sheltering — Pemberton Park, Gonzales Park and Oaklands Park

There are several parks ­without washroom facilities where sheltering is allowed.

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