Tents remain in Victoria parks as homeless campers await indoor space

As of Saturday, 24-hour camping is no longer allowed in parks in B.C.'s capital city, but that doesn't mean city parks will be tent-free right away.

Campers in Victoria parks who have accepted an offer of indoor housing but are still waiting for that housing to be ready are exempt from the city bylaw that requires tents to be taken down by 7 a.m. each morning.

Those who have refused to move indoors will have to pack up their stuff during the day.

Ronald Beland is in the exempt group. He's been sheltering in Victoria's Stadacona Park off and on for the last eight years.

He calls himself the park advocate, and his most recent spell in Stadacona Park began in September after his life was disrupted by the pandemic.

"I had a job and a place and everything," he says. "I lost it all to COVID."

Now, Beland has accepted an offer of shelter in a provincial facility that will be managed by Our Place Society, but he's not leaving the park just yet.

Our Place expects 60 rooms in a shelter on Russell Street in the Vic West neighbourhood to be ready for campers to move in on Monday. Another 30 places will be available the following week in a village of converted shipping containers near Royal Athletic Park that has been dubbed "Tiny Town." 

"We're hoping everybody who's been out on the streets for quite a period of time will accept an offer," said Grant McKenzie, director of communications for Our Place.

Once people have moved inside, McKenzie said, the organization will be able to assess each person's situation and move them to the appropriate place.

According to Beland, almost everyone in Stadacona Park has accepted a housing offer.

"It went really good today," he said Saturday morning. "There was just one tent impounded."

He described the plan to assess people in an effort to ensure they get the support they need as "a good start."

"They're doing something different than they did in 2014," Beland said. "In 2014, they did nothing."

Beland says he's looking forward to moving indoors, but only once everyone else moves out of the park.

With files from CTV News Vancouver Island's Eric Lloyd