A narrow strip of Fernwood Park is ground zero for a simmering dispute between tempters and park neighbors.
Around 1,000 people have signed a petition to end camping in Stadacona Park in Victoria, citing negative impacts on both campers and residents hosted in the area.
The petition states that “for the past three summers, Stadacona Park has experienced large mobile encampments of homeless individuals.”
One such person is Cliff, 60, who said he had been sleeping in the park for four months.
“I see a lot of kids coming here, I see a lot of people coming here from all over the neighborhood,” he said. “There are people here who don’t use drugs… most people here, if there’s a kid around, they won’t use in front of them. They have respect.
Cliff said his name has been on a provincial housing list for more than five years.
“I’m still waiting,” he said.
Located between Pandora Avenue and Begbie Street, Stadacona Park is near condominiums, rental apartments, and single-family homes. The City of Victoria allowed all-day camping during the provincial government’s COVID-19 state of emergency, but that directive expired on May 1, bringing back into force a regulation that allows tents in public parks only from 19 a.m. to 7 a.m.
But the 24-hour camping has continued, and residents’ grievances go beyond the tents. They list drug overdoses, violent crimes, death, as well as intimidation of local residents, public urination, scattered drug paraphernalia, shouting of obscenities, and loud music.
Michael Barr, a member of the neighborhood group that started the petition, said residents have reached a breaking point.
“Camping in parks lacks safety and dignity for campers, and lacks safety and respect for the community,” he said. “We’ve just reached a point where we say, ‘no more.’ ”
Barr said the neighbors aren’t against homelessness solutions, but don’t think the parks should be used as homes in the meantime. He suggested campers be moved to other city-owned lots.
“We support solutions to house the homeless, but what we’re saying is that parks are not part of that solution,” he said. “Moving campers to another park obviously doesn’t solve the problem…there are other municipal lands, or they could arrange to rent land where camping and sheltering could take place.
“It allows the parks to be free, to return to the public domain.”
But not all neighbors are equally attached to campers.
Around noon on Friday, 85-year-old Janette Hennigar walked her 12-year-old border collie Rory through the park, passing several tents near the park’s tennis courts, where a match filled with laughter was in progress.
“You know when you shouldn’t approach [people]. You have to be reasonable,” she said. “But I’ve met a lot of lovely people who, through no fault of their own, are stuck here.”
Hennigar, a former nurse, said she’s been coming to the park every other day for more than a decade with Rory. She hasn’t encountered the violence or crime mentioned in the petition, but she said she sees a lot of people who need help.
“I’ve met a lot of people who work and just don’t have the money to pay the rent,” she said. “By the grace of God, we’re not doing too badly, but if rents keep going up, everyone’s going to be in the park.”
The province has made it clear that camps are not a safe or suitable form of housing.
In an email, the Ministry of the Attorney General, responsible for housing, said its most recent data indicates that about 10 people are camping at Stadacona Park, although the number fluctuates regularly.
“We know there is an urgent need for more housing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Victoria,” the ministry said, noting that since 2018 BC Housing has opened 389 supported housing units. support in the city and 390 places are currently under construction or in development.
“Our priority is to help people seeking shelter in settlements connect to the supports they need.
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