Over a dozen unhoused people and North Park neighbourhood residents gathered at Central Park on Saturday afternoon to discuss housing and homelessness with their riding’s provincial candidates.
Unhoused people have been using the park as a site for their tents since the beginning of the pandemic. As of Oct. 9, there are 114 tents in place, according to the North Park Neighbourhood Association.
Green Party candidate Jenn Neilson was the only candidate to show up to the event. Liberal candidate Karen Bill and NDP candidate Grace Lore cited COVID-19 as their reason for not attending.
“I think housing is a basic human right,” Neilson said, emphasizing that if elected she would do her best to declare homelessness a public health emergency.
She said that “trauma-informed mental health and harm reduction supports” should be in place long before people start asking for help.
Jason Chadwick, who is living in a tent in Central Park, told Neilson that he wants to have control over his housing situation. Chadwick said he works full-time but would have to devote his entire paycheque to rent if he were to get a place in Victoria.
He suggested that instead of governments paying to shelter people in temporary homes, they should give unhoused people the financial resources to find housing themselves.
Michael Knife, also a park dweller, said he’s sympathetic to North Park neighbourhood residents who are frustrated that their park is being occupied by tents. He too is frustrated that this is his living situation.
“This is not what parks are for,” said Allan Gallupe, a member of Friends of Central Park. “We need parks now more than ever,” referencing COVID-19, “and people don’t feel safe using the park anymore.”
Aaron Childs has three children who haven’t used the park since May.
“We’re calling on the municipal and provincial governments to act immediately and move people in this park into housing.”
Mayor Lisa Helps has said the city will start enforcing new rules and reducing the number of tents in Central Park, but no moves have been made as of yet.
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