A two-year ban on overnight camping in Beacon Hill Park is up for discussion at Victoria council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting Thursday.
Brought forward by Mayor Lisa Helps and Couns. Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe, the motion says the park needs two years shelter-free to recover from the effects of a year of intensive camping.
It adds that Beacon Hill Park was never designed for camping and its lawns, vegetation and biodiversity have sustained some damage. To be restored it needs some work from city staff, but mostly just needs time.
The proponents also hope a two-year ban would help reset a perception among travellers and tourists that the park is intended for camping. In past years, Beacon Hill Park has been advertised on Trip Advisor and other travel sites as a good place to pitch a tent.
When the pandemic hit, it was one of many parks opened to people experiencing homelessness. Realizing that shelter space was limited and more people were becoming unhoused, the city amended its bylaw to temporarily allow 24/7 camping.
In November, it committed to having everyone camping in parks sheltered by March 31. That deadline was extended to April 30 and by May 15 the city said it had temporarily housed 226 people. Over the last year, close to 600 people have been moved inside.
All-day camping is now banned in city parks, with 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. sheltering allowed in some and a degree of leeway granted to those who need time to move their belongings. There are roughly eight tents remaining in Beacon Hill Park.
The camping ban motion asks city staff to report back to council in May 2023 with an update on the remediation process and whether a longer ban is required. During that time, Helps said, the city and community partners will work on reaching functional zero – a concept where there are enough services, housing and shelter beds for everyone who needs one at any given time.
If the motion passes at committee and later at council, Beacon Hill Park will join a list of 23 other parks where sheltering is currently banned.
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