Victoria city council will once again discuss using Royal Athletic Park as a place for people to shelter in.
At the onset of the pandemic, the city designated three parks – Beacon Hill, Topaz and Royal Athletic Park – to be used to shelter in to support social distancing efforts and help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Royal Athletic Park was the only option that was never used to house people experiencing homelessness.
Now, the option is back on the table.
At the Sept. 3 committee of the whole meeting, city staff were directed to report back on options for providing manager access to showers, washrooms and temporary shelter at Royal Athletic Park and options for limiting sheltering at Central Park.
Sarah Murray, executive director of the North Park Neighbourhood Association (NPNA), said that once Centennial Square was shut down the number of campers in Central Park jumped from 45 tents to 81 shelters, “essentially doubling over the course of a week.”
A final vote for a number committee-approved motions to change the Parks Regulation Bylaw – such as limiting the maximum size of shelters allowed, requiring a four-metre buffer to prevent the spread of fire and infection, and banning open flame appliances – will also take place on Thursday.
Currently city staff estimate there are 275 people living outside in Victoria.
The NPNA wants to see a drastic reduction in the number of campers at Central Park but does not want to see campers at both parks. Murray said the NPNA wants to see a distributed approach to sheltering, which would mean “other neighbourhoods also accommodate their fair share of the number of campers who are currently in parks.”
On Monday, the NPNA held a meeting at RAP for people to share their opinions.
“What was really clear is that there’s truly no consensus right now on what the best way to move forward is,” she said.
Murray would like to see the Oak Bay Lodge, which has over 200 units, used as housing for people currently sheltering in parks.
“It’s the only facility in the region right now that is vacant and could very easily be repurposed for folks who need immediate indoor accommodation,” she said, adding the NPNA wants to see the appropriate supports put in place for any indoor or outdoor sheltering options.
Murray also wants to see more engagement from the City of Victoria on this topic.
“The City of Victoria has an 11 person engagement department,” she said. “Where have they been during this process … we would absolutely love to use the resources in that department to find out what the community would want.”
– With files from Nina Grossman and Travis Patterson