(Beacon Hill Park/Facebook)

The City of Victoria has set a deadline to end camping in parks, following a vote at council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on Thursday.

Members voted on a number of items in a motion brought forth by Mayor Lisa Helps and councillor Jeremy Loveday to address people sheltering in public parks, including a clause to end temporary 24/7 camping measures on March 31, 2021.

“We can’t have people living in parks permanently, or even to the remainder of this term, or even past March 31st,” Helps said at the meeting.

“Because it’s not good for people living in parks, and it’s not good for the other members of the public who also wish to use the parks.”

In their motion, Helps and Loveday wrote that they are confident that sufficient indoor spaces can be found before the deadline to house people currently sheltering in parks.

When asked by councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe for clarification about the use of the word “currently” in the motion, Helps said that priority would be given to individuals who have been homeless in Victoria for extended periods of time and are vulnerable.

“So if somebody just shows up here from Alberta in a pickup truck and says ‘oh, I’m camping in a park, I need housing,’ well obviously they haven’t been homeless for a long time in our city,” Helps said.

“We’re never going to prevent it 100 per cent, but that’s the idea, is that we tend to the people who have been there, and are in many cases very vulnerable.”

In addition to setting the March 31 deadline, Helps and Loveday’s motion also called on city staff to contact land-owners for the possibility of constructing a 30-unit “tiny home” cluster to house unsheltered people.

They also called on the Province to open Oak Bay Lodge to unhoused people aged 55 and over, until the building is demolished for redevelopment.

The motion received near-unanimous support, with Councillors Geoff Young and Sharmarke Dubow voting against the deadline, for opposing reasons.

Young expressed a concern for the deadline’s “escape clause,” which says that the March 31 amendment will only be scheduled once it is clear that housing and shelter space are available.

Dubow said he opposed the deadline because he did not feel comfortable setting a hard deadline on vulnerable people.

Young also opposed an item on the motion expressing support to the Province for the purchase of two sites on Yates Street and Meares Street for affordable housing.