On Dallas Road, a picturesque backdrop of rolling waves, dense natural brush and the mountainous Washington state skyline is contrasted by what many call a visual representation of the City’s housing crisis: RVs, campers and vans parked in rows.
Most of them come and go, but in a city recently ranked the 16th least affordable in the world by the Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, alternative forms of living are not uncommon.
Still, the long-term campers are not without controversy.
Dallas Road resident Janice Williams has been living near the popular public park for 11 years. She says it’s changed before her eyes, with more garbage, waste and in some cases, even human feces left behind. It’s not possible to point to any one culprit, but Williams is fed up with the area being “used and abused by people who are camping overnight.” On Wednesday, she started an online petition titled ‘Limit Abuse of Dallas Road Parking.’ A day after she posted it, more than 70 people had signed.
“Part of being in Victoria is respecting your neighbours and we aren’t getting that respect,” Williams said. “There is a sense that the neighbourhood is quite frustrated and really a sense that the city isn’t going to do anything to help us.
“It’s not because we lack compassion for people who can’t afford housing in our area, we understand that that’s a problem, but this isn’t an RV park. It doesn’t have the facilities for it, and ultimately there’s health and safety risks to the neighbourhood. People have had pets ingest things and kids play in that park.”
The rugged oceanside park is not lawless. The City of Victoria has a bylaw that restricts parking on Dallas Road between 2:30 and 5:30 a.m. on any day, unless the owner of the vehicle has a set address adjacent to the area their car is parked.
The bylaw also points specifically to motorhomes, camper trucks and recreational trailers registered to people with addresses within the Capital Regional District as being restricted from parking on any street between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Additionally, City bylaws restrict people from sleeping overnight in cars parked on the street.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says overnighting at Dallas Road needs to be looked at as a symptom of a bigger problem.
“Housing is the issue,” Helps said in a message. “[It’s] clearly a federal and provincial responsibility and clearly we need more housing and more mental health care more quickly. This is a problem across B.C. and across the country.”
Laurel Collins, the MP for Victoria, agreed with Helps.
“The issue here is that Victoria is facing a serious housing shortage and a lack of affordable options,” she said. “Families in our communities are facing constant stress, choosing between rent and food. We should be working on partnerships with provinces and communities to build more affordable housing.”
|Jasper Sunshine and his dogs Rhea and Minnie have been living on Dallas Road for two weeks. He says he understands the frustration from homeowners and residents in the area, but also says he is diligent about limiting waste. Living in the van, he says, is the only thing keeping him from becoming homeless. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)|
Jasper Sunshine told Black Press Media he’s been living in a camperized cube van on Dallas Road for two weeks. A Canadian military veteran, he lives in the van both for the lifestyle and affordability – in fact, he said he would be homeless without it.
Still, Sunshine understands the frustration from house-dwelling residents.
“I totally get it,” he said. “If I had a house with an oceanfront view – or a h
ouse anywhere – and I was paying a mortgage and I saw degenerates living in a van … I’d be pissed too.”
But Sunshine claims that for many living the camper van lifestyle, keeping the park clean is a priority since, “the outdoors is kind of our home.”
“We’re a lot more environmentally friendly than the average person,” he said. “Most of us are ‘quote unquote hippies.’”
Sunshine said he hasn’t seen any bylaw officers in the two weeks he’s been camping on Dallas.
Alex Painter, another Dallas Road camper, said he enjoys having the ability to travel. He was in Victoria only to complete a training course. A self-proclaimed outdoorsman, Painter said he also tries to limit waste.
“We have enough of an image problem as it is so I try to be low impact,” he said. “That’s my goal – I try to live a zero-waste lifestyle as it is. If I see garbage I tend to pick it up and throw it away.”
But according to Williams, and at least 70 others, the City needs to take more responsibility when it comes to protecting the neighbourhood they love.
“When people know that bylaws aren’t going to be enforced, it rolls out the red carpet,” she said. “I think Victoria has created a reputation for being very friendly to a transient population.
“I think when the expectation of those who live here are lowered, everyone suffers.”
In a statement, Shannon Perkins, Victoria’s manager of bylaw and licensing services, said the City will be enhancing regular education and enforcement efforts in place by introducing “limited-restricted parking” in the area.
“We believe this will greatly reduce the number of people who park overnight,” she said.
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