Victoria council has taken a step towards permanently removing Central Park from those where 24/7 sheltering can happen.
A report at the Jan. 21 committee of the whole meeting about mitigating the impacts of sheltering, presented by parks, recreation and facilities director Thomas Souliere, made two recommendations that require bylaw amendments.
Council approved the first, related to camper safety and comfort, that would prohibit sheltering in areas of parks that have a high risk of flooding or other environmental hazards, such as falling trees or branches. A man camping in Stadacona Park early on Jan. 13 escaped serious injury when a tree fell on his yurt in high winds. Another nearby shelter was narrowly missed by the falling tree, but the occupant was not inside.
Souliere said he didn’t expect that closing certain high-risk sections of city parks for sheltering would affect many people, but agreed to provide council with a map of affected park areas to discuss at the Jan. 28 committee of the whole meeting.
An amendment to the second recommendation saw councillors approve adding Central Park to the list of those where sheltering is prohibited, as long as sheltering during the pandemic provisions are in effect that allow for 24/7 camping. The pre-COVID bylaw allowed camping in specific parks from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. A greater discussion around the closure of Central Park, with more logistical details, will happen at the March 4 committee meeting.
Central Park was closed for remediation on Jan. 4, after an area of the parking lot for Royal Athletic Park on Caledonia Street was set up to accommodate campers in a drier location.
The city is still working toward its March 31 deadline for finding indoor accommodation for all people currently sheltering in parks who wish to move indoors. Mayor Lisa Helps indicated Thursday that David Eby, B.C.’s minister responsible for housing, has confirmed multiple times the province’s support of that goal.