A formal agreement between the province and the City of Victoria will see the elimination of encampments in the city’s parks by May, according to Housing Minister David Eby.
The Memorandum of Understanding puts Victoria in charge of managing the transition of people into available housing, remediating parks and enforcing bylaws to ensure encampments are not resurrected.
The majority of campers will be relocated into temporary shelter spaces, pending a needs assessment, before eventually moving into more permanent accommodations.
“Moving people directly from an encampment before we really know what they need and how best to support them can cause problems and has caused problems in the past,” Eby told reporters.
The province will support the city’s efforts. Eby did not provide a cost estimate but said more than 100 people have already moved out of encampments and into housing.
The housing minister expects the transition will be a gradual effort rather than a dramatic decampment at the end of next month but admitted it is unlikely every single person living in a city park will be housed before May.
“There are folks who are going to decline our offers of housing — who aren’t interested in moving inside — and we respect that. No one will be forced to move inside,” he said. “However, it will also be made clear that they are not able to camp in parks the way that they have been.”
The city is expected to begin enforcing its new bylaw, which bans all-day camping in city parks, by May.
Eby is “hopeful” the agreement with Victoria will serve as a template for other municipalities struggling with housing issues.
The agreement also stipulates that the city must apply to the federal-provincial Strengthening Communities’ Services program by April 16. The program provides up to $2.5 million to municipalities so they can set up temporary shelters and services and address “concerns about public health and safety.”