Victoria Council voted to re-allow campers back into Centennial Square and limit the number of unhoused campers allowed at municipal parks on Thursday.
A motion put forward by Mayor Lisa Helps called for Centennial Square to be added to a list of areas prohibited to camping and was seconded by Councillor Thornton-Joe.
In debate on the motion, Helps said that she is opposed to homeless encampments in all public parks, but is especially opposed to camping in the downtown area due to their proximity to businesses.
“While there’s no good place for camping in any park in any city, there are some places that are worse than others,” said Helps.
“Our downtown businesses are struggling… things are only going to get worse for them, not better.”
Helps added she does not think homelessness and business are incompatible, but the central business district is not a good place to have people camping outside.
Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe seconded Helps’ motion and added that businesses with outlets in other municipalities are seeing people avoid Victoria’s downtown in favour of other locations.
“One of our businesses that has been downtown for many many years actually has a sign saying ‘we’re closing, we’re moving,’” said Thornton-Joe.
“We need to send the message that downtown is open for business, is helping with recovery.”
Helps’ motion was voted down by all other members of Council aside from Thornton-Joe.
Camping at municipal parks
Council voted to allocate an additional $94,528 to VicPD for a special duty patrol of parks. That motion passed with a minor amendment to receive monthly reports on the deployment and its success.
Council rejected a motion exploring the possibility of allowing encampments back to Royal Athletic Park and Central Park.
If and when campers return to Centennial Square, they will be subject to new COVID-19 guidelines from the City outlining mandatory distancing. Tents will be limited to an area of three square metres, with a minimum four metres of distance between each.
Council also passed restrictions that call for a larger buffer zone between tents and playgrounds, with a 50 metre buffer between schools and sheltering areas.
Daytime camping will also automatically expire 30 days after the Provincial State of Emergency ends.
These orders will take effect on Monday, September 14, 2020.