Christine Havelka
Deputy City Clerk / Manager of Legislative Services
Legislative Services
City of Victoria
1 Centennial Square, Victoria BC V8W 1P6

May 5, 2021

Re: Beacon Hill Park Trust

Dear Ms. Havelka

I am a long-time resident of James Bay living adjacent to Beacon Hill Park (BHP). I am interested in participating in the proceeding related to the Beacon Hill Park Trust. The following is my letter which outlines the nature of my interest and my position on the questions posed by the City.

I would like to start by acknowledgingI recognize there are several people in Victoria experiencing homelessness and that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation. In my immediate community, there are many homeless currently living peacefully in BHP as they await housing. There are also people who are homeless with mental health issues, addiction, or both who are causing a great deal of disruption in the community while living in BHP. And finally, there are others who are not “homeless” living in the BHP. My interest in the proceedings is in relation to the latter 2 groups of people and their impact on those sheltering peacefully in the park as well as the surrounding community.

After 10 years of living directly across from BeaconHill Park and observing first-hand what takes please each day, I am of the opinion that the land known as Beacon Hill Park, held in trust by the City of Victoria, should not be used by persons experiencing homelessness for temporary (unmanaged)sheltering. I say this for the following reasons:

1. There is currently no mechanism to identify if those sheltering in BHP are experiencing homelessness.

Pre-pandemic, throughout the fall, winter and spring, there are few people sheltering BHP and those that are, are mainly hidden from public view. In the summer however, there are a large number of people from other provinces on their way to tree planting jobs or work in the service industry in Tofino or other parts of the province who shelter in the park; some for weeks at a time as they visit the city. These folks are not homeless.

Throughout the pandemic, the City Bylaw staff have worked hard to identify the individuals sheltering the parks and track their tents. They have not however, to my knowledge, validated that those sheltering in the BHP are indeed homeless. BHP has become a place where a diverse mix take shelter for a variety of reasons including runaway youth, people living with addiction and mental health issues, known offenders including sexual predators, tree planters in transit, van-lifers, drug dealers and homeless. The combination of some of these groups has proven to be damaging to the homeless in the park, and those living in the surrounding community. (see attached Beacon Hill Park Media List)

2. BHP is predominantly a forest where it is easy to hide crime from plain sight and criminal activity can flourish.

Most city parks are open spaces where it is easy to see the activities taking place. BHP is not. This makes it easier for sexual predators, drug-dealers, thieves and other criminals to hide their activity, particularly at night. The terrain also makes it very difficult for first responders and law enforcement come to assist victims. Each time responders enter the park they are at risk. Imagine being called to duty at 2:00 AM for an assault that has taken place in the middle of a park where there are known offenders with a history of violence hidden amongst the trees.

The ability to easily hide crime in the forest, unsafe access to victims and known criminals sheltering in BHP has led to a significant amount of crime both in and around the park. The park is not safe for the homeless who are sheltering their awaiting for housing or for the community members around the park.

As we have seen from other parks in Victoria, sheltering in parks attracts crime and over time becomes unsafe. The tent city on the court-house lawn in 2016 closed based on evidence of deterioration and safety concerns. The camp became unsafe for both those in the camp and the neighbouring residents.

More recently, in April of 2020, the camp at Topaz Park was ordered to close by the BC government under a public safety order. Residents in the near-by community reported violent attacks, assaults and home invasions.Centennial Square, directly outside of City Hall, was also shut down by the city of Victoria for problems ranging from drug trafficking to violence.

Section 7 of the Charter states that” everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” The first part of this clause has been used to provide people with the right to shelter in parks. The second part has been used to dismantle encampments. Beacon Hill Park has become a progressively dangerous place and centre for crime. Any continued camping will allow this to continue flourish. It would also continue to put first responders and police officers at greater risk they attempt to attend to victims in the forested terrain.

3. The city has not been specified what is meant by temporary in their request.

Temporary is defined as lasting for a limited period of time. It can be an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year or more. We have seen through the pandemic that temporary can easily become long lasting.

The impact of 24/7 camping in Beacon Hill Park has been significant and it is likely that the culture that has entrenched in the park. It will take years to recover. Allowing people to continue to shelter in the park, even if just at night, will make it more difficult to return the park to a state where it can be used by the public.

4. Sheltering in Beacon Hill Park has prevented the public from using it for their enjoyment without putting themselves at risk.

The Beacon Hill Park Trust maintains that the park “shall be maintained and preserved by the saidCorporation and their successors for the use recreation and enjoyment of the public”. With the amount of violence in the park, and the fear of being assaulted, residents have been not been using the park as they have in the past.

Even if sheltering was limited to evening only, the debris left behind by some of the campers, ranges from unpleasant to dangerous. Many of those camping in the park eliminate outside throughout the parks. There are needles left behind in bushes and in public washrooms.Garbage from their evening stay has been left behind where a tent once sat.

With unmanaged camping, it is impossible to manage who, when, and where people camp as well as what they leave behind.All of this has a significant impact on the park and will continue to do so should any form of sheltering be permitted.

Respectfully

Susan Simmons

Media List

11 thoughts on “

  1. Very well compiled. It’s so hard to govern our social issues. The measure of our wealth is how well we look after our needy yet some will take advantage of our wealth. Do we raise a sword when it becomes unmanageable? This is so hard to govern. I don’t believe their goal is malevolent towards the innocent just poor guidance sometimes by the governance itself.

  2. Excellent letter and I support all of Susans points. I would like to add my concern. I live close to the park and take many children to the petting zoo, this treasure may not be there once the park is cleaned up. The Running of the Goats is a huge draw for families, followed by visiting the ponds of ducks. Then there will be the cost of repairing the park itself. Maybe all those who supported the use of the park as a free, open camp site would enjoy putting on their rubber cloves, grab garbage bags and turn the clean up into a team building experience to save the tax payers the bill.

  3. This letter is well written and brings forward all the issues that are top of our mind as well. We live on the opposite side of BHP and the walk our dog, on a daily basis, through the Park. Our experiences over the past 18 months are the same as yours. The second and third groups of campers are certainly of greatest concern to all of us. I have written to the Mayor on a few occasions to discuss out of province campers, the demise of BHP and the increase in crime in the surrounding neighborhoods. The responses I received from the City were generic and lacking of any plan.

    I appreciate the list of media reported crimes but, as you are aware, there are many petty crimes that take place on a daily basis that are not reported. The problem is much worse than it appears.

    April 30 has come and gone and it seems like there are fewer tents in some parts of the Park. However, I see that old camper vans, motor homes etc arrive along Dallas Road and in BHP (near the petting zoo) on a daily basis. Many of them are recognizable and they simply move from location to location.

    Thanks for the letter you sent.

    Best wishes for all of us in the neighbouring communities.

  4. I grew up in Victoria and have many happy memories of playing there as a child and of taking my own child there it was a place for family to picnic for concerts to feed the ducks or to just sit. It was our park to be enjoyed by everyone. Now there is no way I would go near the park its not safe and I blame this mayor and city council and it makes sad and angry that they have allowed to happen to our city and to our park

  5. Given that Victoria is also a tourist destination, the city of Victoria could be pro-active by facing the situation in Beacon Hill Park before visitors start to tour the area again.

  6. Absolutely in solidarity with Susan as regards her letter to the city of Victoria on the subject of camping in bhp and our other parks.what we know is this translates into the city actively supporting criminal activity in our parks,which cannot be denied ,given the extensive catalogue of specific crimes that have been documented,and known ,convicted criminals identified as taking advantage of the grotesque invitation and welcome laid out by mayor,council,and dare I say it,the woke bureaucracy at city hall.the conduct of our city government,in a just world,would result in the provincial government putting the city under temporary administration,terminating the council and ordering new elections to break the raging fever rampant at the corner of Douglas and pandora.

  7. I used to love all the seasons going to the park. It would have been a great refuge in this pandemic for all of us who live here. Instead it became a nightmare of garbage and abusive people. I stopped going a year ago. Miss it terribly. No one should be allowed to tent there. There is a serious criminal element that spill into our neighborhoods every night. Our buildings are broken into, cars damaged. I used to walk every where but now I drive more as the city is over run with criminals who have rights apparently. The people without rights now are all of us who live here and pay taxes.

  8. An excellent, well thought out, factual, concisely presented letter.
    I can only hope that those at City Hall will recognize that their decision to allow any camping in Beacon Hill Park was a mistake and take strong, consistent measures to repair the damage caused and make sure it does not happen in the future.

  9. What a great letter/summary of the BHP fiasco of allowing Camping. My family has owned a house in James Bay since 1947. I was born in this house as was my son. Who attended South Park School. I am heart broken by the state of the park.
    I also have the perspective of being a Mental Health nurse working with the ACT teams who unfortunately just lost two of the much needed police officers on the teams because of funding. I understand the issue is complicated. I am not a NIMBY and have great compassion for truly homeless people especially those with mental health issues. BUT we cannot allow the world famous “jewel of our city” BHP to be sacrificed while a solution is found. The delicate eco systems and ancient trees can not be replaced.
    In James Bay we pay the highest taxes in the land. I do not resent paying taxes as I USED to live in a beautiful and safe city. In James Bay we have always had to deal with high crime being close to town but we have endured a crime wave since the beginning of camping in BHP. What is happening in BHP is not okay with the law abiding tax paying citizens of Victoria.

  10. Thank you for this letter. What the media list fails to capture is all of the unreported incidents that add up to a very significant sum. I have been threatened on a number of occasions but have never made reports.
    I was once looking for a stolen child carrier / bicycle trailer and I was warned that if I walked near shelters containing dozens of bicycles and parks I would be “hit with a hammer in the back of my head”. I was also aggressively questioned about why I was walking 10m away from tents. I was sworn at and warned away when I took photos of piles of bikes.
    I have been sworn at for attempting to use the public toilets at Dallas and Cook, which were surrounded by tents. The person swearing at and threatening me that time seemed to be quite mentally ill. Others were around who saw and heard this, who opined that I should stay away as this poor person was disturbed. I could not use the toilet.
    Two weeks ago I politely asked a man late at night, who had two bicycles, why he was riding with two bikes. He threatened me, swore at me, and I quickly left. The police would not have arrived promptly and I was alone on Southgate, after midnight.
    Even this weekend there is someone camping in the playground by the watering can. On last Thursday early evening the main central playground was empty of children, the opposite of its usual state in a pleasant evening.
    The campers cause anxiety for the regular park users, who in turn stay away, becoming more anxious. I am a 6’-3” 225 lb healthy, strong and confident man. I am uncomfortable in some areas of Beacon Hill Park in the daytime, more so than I was walking through downtown Detroit decades ago, Alphabet City in Manhattan in the early 80s, or through central Rio de Janeiro after dark in 2015. The areas that I mention are/were known worldwide as unsafe places, centres of criminal activity, lawlessness. Beacon Hill Park feels just as unsafe, yet it is just a few hundred metres from my home.
    I sympathize with some of the homeless and took in a man from the park five years ago. I mentored him, housed him (albeit in my garage, in an extra car), helped him. But many of the homeless are simply hard to house, unstable and unwilling to work at all. They belong in purpose built supervised shelters for the hard to house, not in the park, nor in combustible wood frame hotels. The man I helped moved here from England, yet would tell outreach workers that he was local (despite his telltale accent). Our parks should not be homes for the homeless of the world, nor anyone.

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