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Victoria homeless pitch solutions as no change expected after park shelter dispersed

Further displacing people could make it harder for service providers to reach them
More enforcement was brought in to disperse those sheltering in Topaz Park in early June, 2023. This file photo shows tents set up at Topaz Park in 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)

As enhanced enforcement clears out people sheltering in Topaz Park this week, those who support Victoria’s vulnerable say it won’t lead to better outcomes for the homeless or the results wanted by concerned residents.

Victoria police announced Monday (June 5) their officers and bylaw officials would be stepping up enforcement on those sheltering at the park that’s recently been revitalized with a new skate park and turf field. VicPD later said it responded to two fires on Monday and it arrested one person in relation to trespassing at a nearby backyard.

The local force said those sheltering had been given repeated notice of the enforcement and it was responding to an increase in calls to the park in the first half of 2023, along with concerns from residents and park users.

“It’s not really solving any of the actual issues, the biggest one being people don’t have anywhere to go and are just seeking shelter,” said Jordan Cooper, the director of services at Our Place Society.

The City of Victoria told Black Press Media the added enforcement was due to those in the park not packing up their structures at 7 a.m. each day as bylaws dictate, noting overnight sheltering is lawful at Topaz Park.

But with waitlists at local shelters, individuals being wary of those spaces due to negative experiences and shelter guidelines presenting barriers for others, Cooper said people’s only option is to go to another spot in the city or even the park.

Scattering people from centralized locations also makes it harder for those at Our Place or other service providers to connect some of the most vulnerable citizens to vital support. That includes street outreach teams who have a mandate to find people and help them fill out BC Housing paperwork, get them to medical appointments or supply them with food.

“When we know they’re at a certain park, we can find and support them but when they get moved around and they get displaced, they often end up losing some of their belongings or the supplies they need to shelter each night,” Cooper said.

The city is behind on building enough supportive spaces – especially ones that can help those with complex needs – despite more housing coming online, Cooper said.

“There are people out there that have been housed, but none of the outlying reasons why that person became unhoused in the first place were supported adequately, and they end up unhoused again. Then it’s even more difficult for that person to get into housing because of that history,” he said.

A City of Victoria spokesperson said their approach is centred around conversations with those sheltering to achieve voluntary bylaw compliance, which could take up to several days.

“Staff recognize that each person is a unique individual and consequently staff do not conduct ‘street sweeps’ or treat everyone in the exact same manner. Each person is evaluated for their ability to comply in any given time and place,” Colleen Mycroft said in an email.

As the city notes it works with organizations to link people with life-improving resources, Cooper hopes people experiencing homelessness will be brought into talks about what kind of housing solutions would work for them.

At Thursday night’s council meeting, the See Spring Mental Wellness Coalition will be presenting 10 recommendations that were curated by more than 100 local unhoused folks.

Those ideas are not yet operating anywhere in the Capital Region and include:

  • a Hope Hub near Pandora Avenue with 24/7 bathrooms and substance-use resources that are provided through a disability lens and not available elsewhere
  • setting up short-term transitional peer hubs on city land instead of having people shelter in parks
  • a “warmline” that would give people in crisis a place to vent but wouldn’t report their information
  • volunteer-provided on-demand information about how to safely contemplate, plan and act on substance tapering, management of withdrawal symptoms
  • other initiatives that are led by those with lived experiences of homelessness

READ: Police, bylaw officers target enforcement at those sheltering at Victoria park

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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