Victoria council is seeking an answer to the question of whether sheltering in Beacon Hill Park is allowed once and for all.
In a petition filed to the Supreme Court of B.C. on Tuesday, the city asked: “Can the land known as Beacon Hill Park, held in trust by the City of Victoria, be used by persons experiencing homelessness for temporary sheltering?”
In 2009, the Court of Appeal ruled unhoused people have a constitutional right to set up temporary shelters in a park if there is no available “practicable” shelter elsewhere. Under the city’s Parks Regulation Bylaw, this normally allows people to shelter from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. So, the question is not whether sheltering in parks is allowed, it’s whether Beacon Hill Park is an exception to the rule.
Use of the park is outlined in the 1882 Trustee Act, where it is mandated the land be maintained “for the use, recreation and enjoyment of the public under the provisions of the Public Parks Act 1876.” It does not, however, make any specific references to using the park as shelter.
Noting the impact the pandemic has had on housing and social supports, Mayor Lisa Helps said, “All of these are modern realities that didn’t exist in 1882 when the trust was created.”
According to the city’s petition, prior to March 18, 2020 there were approximately 24 to 35 temporary shelters in city parks. By April 24, 2020, that number had increased to approximately 465. Now, Helps said the number is closer to 200 – the number of people they have promised to offer shelter by the end of March.
“Urban parks are not designed or intended for continuous sheltering,” the petition reads. “Most city public parks lack the necessary infrastructure to support the essential, life-sustaining activities of unhoused persons.”
Helps emphasized the petition is not an action against people currently sheltering in Beacon Hill Park, though. She said it is likely the petition won’t be heard until at least April, at which point the city should have already fulfilled its commitment to shelter those people.
The petition, she said, is the city recognizing the issue “has caused a lot of consternation in the community” and needs to be laid to rest.
Helps said the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society plans to hold off on pursuing its lawsuit against the city regarding 24/7 sheltering until this decision has been made.
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