Restoring Victoria’s city parks from the impacts of temporary sheltering will cost an estimated $535,000 and take four years, according to a staff report presented to city council Thursday (Sept. 9).
In the report, staff identify 144 locations across 10 parks that have suffered some level of damage to their manicured and/or natural areas. Soil compaction and contamination, stress or death of vegetation, invasive species introduction and the degradation of habitat are among the results of extended 24-hour sheltering in parks, staff say.
The most seriously affected is Beacon Hill Park, with 90 sites in need of restoration and impact levels ranging from medium to high. Cecelia Ravine Park and Topaz Park are also listed as having high impact levels.
Staff say restoration will take until 2024, including debris removal and cleanup, impact assessment, hazard removal, repair of soil, turf, plants and ecosystems and monitoring for recovery. Since efforts began in May, the first three steps have been completed.
City parks were opened to 24/7 sheltering during the 18 months of the pandemic after indoor shelters were forced to reduce capacity, pushing many people onto the street. Tenting in parks allowed people experiencing homelessness to stay physically distanced while no other options existed.
After more temporary and permanent government housing was secured, the city re-enacted its 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. camping ban on May 1.
“The key point for me is that homelessness is really expensive and it’s much better for people to be living inside than in parks,” Mayor Lisa Helps told Black Press Media, noting the $535,000 price tag.
According to a 2005 study by Carleton University researcher Stephen Pomeroy, the annual cost of institutional responses to a homeless person is $66,000 to $120,000. The annual cost of supportive, transitional housing, by comparison, is estimated at $13,000 to $42,000 per person. Affordable housing without supports is estimated at $5,000 to $8,000 per year, per person, according to Pomeroy.
“When we don’t have places for people to live, it becomes expensive for everyone,” Helps said.
Of the $535,000 restoration estimate, $215,000 will go to hiring two temporary staff, $130,000 will go to consulting services, $120,000 to materials and equipment, and $70,000 will be set aside as contingency. Staff say they will present the estimate with a proposal in the city’s draft 2022 financial plan.
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