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Supporters join David Arthur Johnston at their erected "Tent City" in Beacon Hill Park at sunrise in Victoria Friday. (Deddeda Stemler/Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail)
Supporters join David Arthur Johnston at their erected "Tent City" in Beacon Hill Park at sunrise in Victoria Friday. (Deddeda Stemler/Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail)

Victoria looking to give busy boulevard's tent city the boot Add to ...

To Victoria's street community, the kilometre-long stretch of manicured turf and towering shade trees along Pandora Avenue is the perfect place to take advantage of a court decision allowing homeless people to pitch their tents in public parks.

To the City of Victoria, Pandora Green is neither a park nor a public area, but a road allowance next to a busy street where the mixture of speeding motorists and overnight campers has become an unacceptable safety hazard.

That's the logic behind a new City of Victoria bylaw aimed at putting an end to an ongoing tent city that has materialized on the boulevard on a nightly basis this summer.

"It's not safe to have a campsite next to a road where there's 15,000 cars a day," Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin said Wednesday.

"If people don't want to use the housing and support services available to them, they can still choose to camp in parks, that's part of our bylaw, but the boulevard is no place to be setting up tents."

Two years ago, the B.C. Supreme Court struck down a city bylaw prohibiting camping in public parks, saying the city had an obligation to allow temporary shelters if permanent shelters were unavailable.

The city later passed an amendment limiting the hours of camping to 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The bylaw, to be introduced Thursday morning, would prohibit camping on public road allowances, including all boulevards and medians, "between sunrise and sunset the next day."

Anywhere between 30 and 60 people a night have been exercising their right to camp on the boulevard in recent months. Many of them suffer from substance abuse or mental-health problems and choose to sleep outdoors.

The highest concentration is in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue outside Our Place homeless shelter, a $15-million facility that's open Monday through Friday.

Renee Ahmadi of the Victoria Coalition Against Poverty blamed the problem on a shortage of long-term support for people with addiction and mental-health issues and the lack of a fixed-site needle exchange or safe-consumption site for intravenous drug users.

"What we really need is a safe-consumption site," she said. "The people on Pandora have created what feels to them like the best solution. They've created their own safe consumption site."

Ms. Ahmadi said anti-poverty activists plan to hold a press conference at city hall prior to Thursday's meeting and demand that the campers be allowed to stay put.

City and police officials have expressed frustration at the large number of emergency shelter beds - up to 40 a night - that remain empty while the tent city flourishes. Those include a number of spaces at the Church of St. John the Divine, a low-barrier shelter - dogs, shopping carts allowed - about a block away from the campsite.

In the last 18 months, three members of the local street community have died traffic-related deaths in the immediate area.

"It's a busy area and it's getting busier with foot traffic," said Victoria Police Sergeant Grant Hamilton. "It's only a matter of time before someone else gets killed."

City staff have advised the new anti-camping bylaw can be given final reading 24 hours after it is introduced. However, Mr. Fortin said council may hold off on immediate approval in order to hear from concerned community groups.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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