Beacon Hill Park’s trust does not permit the sheltering of people experiencing homelessness, the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled Thursday.
The City of Victoria first posed the question to the court in March 2021 in an effort to lay the contentious issue to rest.
Use of the park is outlined in the 1882 Trustee Act, where it is mandated the land be maintained “for the use, recreation and enjoyment of the public under the provisions of the Public Parks Act 1876.” It does not, however, make any specific references to using the park as shelter.
People experiencing homelessness have used Beacon Hill Park as a temporary shelter from time to time for years, but when the pandemic hit in March 2020 and the rates of homelessness skyrocketed, so did the number of people in the park. The city estimated the number of temporary shelters in all of its parks jumped from 24 to 35 pre-pandemic to 465 in April 2020.
In March, when the city approached the court, it estimated there were 200 shelters in its parks.
The shelters quickly became a point of contention for Victoria residents, some of whom voiced concerns around safety and feeling the space was no longer usable, and others who argued it was one of few places unhoused people were able to go to survive.
In his ruling Feb. 24, Justice Robert Punnett said the terms of the trust prohibit sheltering in Beacon Hill Park. However, he also said it would be up to the city’s discretion, as trustee, to decide what action to take.
In a statement, the city said it is reviewing the decision. Either way, it won’t have any immediate impact as Beacon Hill Park is now on the city’s list of prohibited sheltering areas.
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