Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says the city is working with the provincial government to move all current campers in Victoria into indoor sheltering by March 31, 2021, and end the municipality’s amended camping bylaw the allows round-the-clock camping at certain municipal parks.
Helps says that the city, BC Housing, the Capital Regional District and Island Health are working together to house 200 people by Dec. 31.
She says the process will be a "huge challenge" but that officials believe it is a realistic timeline. To move people indoors, Helps says that many people who are currently living in supportive housing will be moved into subsidized private housing or apartments where provincial rent supplements are available across the CRD.
Then, people currently living in parks will move into the supportive housing that others are moving out of.
"There are people who have been living in supportive housing for years who are ready to move into the private market," said Helps on Sunday.
"They don’t need supports, they’re stable, they probably prefer to live in an apartment of their own," she said.
The city estimates that there are currently 250 to 275 shelters set up in city parks. While organizers plan to move 200 people into indoor housing by the end of the year, Helps says the goal is to house the remaining campers by March 31.
Once that takes place, the city will no longer allow people to keep shelters erected at parks 24 hours a day.
"As of March 31 it will no longer be permissible to camp 24 hours a day, seven days a week because it won’t be necessary," said Helps. "People will be moved inside."
She notes that some campers may not want to move into indoor sheltering. If that is the case, they will be allowed to camp overnight but will be expected to pack up their shelters in the morning.
Victoria’s mayor stresses that the city plans to house all those who are currently unsheltered, and that the offer of indoor housing does not apply to anyone who arrives in the city later this year or early next year.
"If you show up on February 15 or March 1st you’re probably not going to find housing," she said. "We can’t house all of Canada, we can’t house all of British Columbia, this is also a problem across the province."
She notes that after speaking with approximately a dozen B.C. mayors, the issue of housing and homelessness appears in communities across the province.
"There aren’t any more coming here than Vancouver or Kelowna," she said.
In addition to moving people into indoor housing, Helps says it will be crucial for the B.C. government to address mental health and addiction challenges in tenants.
"Moving people from parks into housing without supports if they need them doesn’t work," she said. "It’s not humane, it’s setting people up for failure so we’re going to count on the Ministry of Health and Island Health to play their role in making sure that people get those supports."
"Just like COVID taxes the whole system, mental health and addictions that is left untreated also taxes the system," she said.
City staff estimate that the city has spent $1.4 million managing encampments this year. If nothing were to change, staff estimate that cost would increase to $1.7 million in 2021.