Camping ban advised for four small Victoria parks

After consulting with neighbours and homeless campers, city staff are recommending a camping ban in four of Victoria’s pocket parks.

City staff are recommending Haegert, Kings, Cridge and Arbutus parks be added to the list of green spaces where camping is prohibited.

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People are already prohibited from overnighting in Moss Rocks Park, Franklin Green and Pioneer Square.

Councillors will consider the recommendation Thursday.

Mayor Lisa Helps, who supports the recommendation, said camping in the small parks has been reduced to almost nothing since the tent city was established behind the courthouse in November.

And, she said, B.C. Housing is planning to keep some seasonal shelters open longer than in previous years, which will lessen the displacement to city parks.

Helps said it makes sense to ban camping in the four parks, as they are small and have no washroom facilities.

“Arguably they’re city lots. [The designation of] park is a little bit of a glorification,” said Helps, adding the spaces are directly adjacent to residences.

“Haegert has a pathway where kids walk back and forth to school. Cridge has a small play feature.”

Some 81 emails on camping in the parks were received from neighbours, while 15 homeless people who have camped in parks responded to surveys circulated to services frequented by the street community.

Common concerns heard from the neighbours included noise (yelling, swearing and fighting), health concerns related to feces, urine and discarded syringes, a reduced sense of security, displacement of other park users and an unwelcoming appearance of the parks, says a staff report.

Meanwhile, the report says, homeless people who had camped in parks indicated little concern about the possible ban.

“Most of the campers were not overly concerned with the closure of the parks to overnight sheltering. People camping in Cridge and Kings Park mentioned they found the parks safe and comfortable for camping as they are in close proximity to residents if unsafe activities should occur. Some campers mentioned they would relocate to other parks (Central Park, Banfield Park, Vic West Park, Beacon Hill Park) or to a shelter if camping became restricted,” the staff report says.

Shelter users who had not camped at any of the four parks said they preferred camping close to the Our Place drop-in centre on Pandora Avenue, where they receive support services, while one mentioned he would camp close to downtown.

In deciding whether to restrict camping in parks, council looks at proximity to pathways, play structures and residences, as well as environmental sensitivity, the park’s size and access to washroom facilities.

Under the city’s parks bylaw, camping is not permitted at any time in a playground, sports field, footpath, road within a park, Bastion Square, environmentally sensitive area, or any area of a park that has been designated for an event or activity and for which a permit has been issued.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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