While some would like to consider the Beacon Hill Park encampment as a distant memory, two Canadian documentarians called it home.
Jay Walker and Isaac Wylde of Walker & Wylde told Victoria Buzz they lived at Beacon Hill Park from December 2020 to March 2021—a place they called the “hobo mecca.”
The two documented their life at the homeless encampment—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What now remains of the Beacon Hill Park encampment their zine called Vagrants Volume II.
“To see the people behind the statistics,” Walker & Wylde said.
“When we discuss people experiencing homelessness, we often don’t see them as people. Numbers don’t account for the individual circumstances of how these people got here. We want to show who these people are; it’s not about us, it’s about them.”
Vagrants Volume II was photographed, designed, and written by Walker & Wylde; it’s a collage-styled interview-based narrative depicting the world, culture, and lifestyle which the Beacon Hill Park encampment became amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In it, they describe their experience walking through the encampment for the first time as a hallway of funhouse mirrors.
“For us, it was us walking through this place and seeing the reflections of ourselves just contorted slightly differently,” Wylde said.
“In saying that, our intention and heart with this project is to share their stories, and humanize this aspect of society. We, like other van-lifers, are living by choice, but that’s not the reality for most of those people. There are good moments, but not always.”
Vagrants Volume II is a slice of life, akin to Humans of New York or Charles Dickens’ Sketches by Boz, capturing both the moments which forever changed Beacon Hill Park and the hobo mecca they claimed to have lived in.
So, how did Beacon Hill Park become a “hobo mecca?”
It was in March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, that Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps announced that the city would authorize the use of Beacon Hill Park and Topaz Park as temporary shelter sites.
Within that year, those who would have regularly gone to Beacon Hill Park would have seen a drastic change to the area.
Tents and safe consumption sites became commonplace, and eventually, some tragedies followed, including a tragic van fire that killed one man in early March 2021.
Vagrants Volume II covers these issues while putting a face to the faceless reports of the people experiencing homelessness that lived there.
While Walker & Wylde understand critics and the eventual decision by The City of Victoria to ban overnight camping, they still maintain that there are larger issues at play with the homeless population and that the zine captures those issues.
“The reality [of Beacon Hill Park] is two-fold. For some, they see the park as a place to enjoy, and the people living there are creating a dynamic that isn’t controllable. I understand the fear,” said Walker & Wylde.
“But the people came to Beacon Hill Park for a refuge, encouraged by the government to do so, just like anyone else who goes to Beacon Hill Park. The campground had its flaws, of course, but these people were displaced for reasons that are sometimes out of their control.”
Now that The City of Victoria has housed most people experiencing homelessness, the question remains, is the problem fixed, or is it just a band-aid over a broken arm?
Walker & Wylde said that it’s a step towards the right direction, but they maintain their criticisms.
“Any move towards housing is definitely a positive. We are incredibly thankful and hopeful because housing is very necessary,” said Walker & Wylde.
“But the issue is that they’re not trying to tackle the systemic issue. The challenge with vagrants is that they are unable to stay in shelter, it’s not a chosen thing to them; it could be due to mental illness, or other extenuating factors that we don’t know.”
Vagrants Volume II doesn’t have the answers nor do Walker & Wylde, rather the goal for them and the zine is to humanize the often ignored, misconstrued, and criticized people that had a life at Beacon Hill Park.
Beacon Hill Park has all but returned to its pre-COVID slumber, and the hope for Walker & Wylde is written at the end of their zine:
I only wish that Victoria had looked at them, and at least called them human.
To check out the zine and to find out more about Walker & Wylde’s cross country adventures go to their website here.