I recently received an email from a Victoria resident very concerned about what they described as sweeps of encampments and the loss of tents and property of those sheltering in parks.
It’s fair to be concerned about the wellbeing of any residents of Victoria, including unhoused residents who are sheltering outdoors, especially in the cold and wet months.
What I set out below is my understanding of the City of Victoria’s policies in relation to tents and sheltering in public spaces.
My goal here is to share information about the policies. If anyone has a different understanding please let me know.
And if you have questions or concerns about specific cases of bylaw infractions or enforcement, please contact our Bylaw Services team at email@example.com.
- Bylaw officers enforce the streets and traffic bylaw and parks regulation bylaw on a daily basis to ensure that individuals are following the rules as it pertains to overnight sheltering.
- Bylaw officers keep public rights of way clear for safe passage of vehicles and pedestrians and to ensure park spaces can be safely accessed by everyone.
- The City of Victoria provides space for overnight sheltering activity in lawful sheltering parks (sheltering is allowed in some parks and not in others – here is the CIty’s Sheltering webpage). However shelters must be taken down every day at 7 a.m. and no sheltering is permitted at any time in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas, playgrounds, sports fields, community gardens and horticultural areas, footpaths/roads, cemeteries or on medians/boulevards.
- A team comprised of bylaw officers, police, and public works sanitation staff work in a coordinated manner and attend daily to areas of concentrated sheltering.
- The work primarily centers around conversations with people to achieve voluntary compliance. Sometimes compliance can take a long time, sometimes hours or even days depending on the particular barrier that person is trying to overcome.
- Staff recognize that each person is a unique individual and consequently staff do not conduct “street sweeps” or treat everyone in the exact same manner. Each person is evaluated for their ability to comply in any given time and place.
- Staff maintain excellent relationships with Health, Housing, and various outreach organizations in order to connect people experiencing homelessness with the resources they require to improve their life situations.
- If repeated requests to comply with bylaws are not met, as a last resort, after all other lower levels of compliance strategies are exhausted, impounding provisions of both the Streets and Traffic Bylaw and the Parks Regulation bylaw can be utilized.
- Weather conditions will be taken into consideration when determining if an impound will occur. People are afforded the opportunity to retain essential sheltering material and other items essential for their health and safety. Bylaw staff have access to replacement items such as tents and sleeping bags to ensure people what they need to shelter themselves overnight.
- When property is impounded, it is retained for 30 days and is available for return upon request.
- Items deemed to be hazardous or too dangerous to store or handle are not retained and are disposed of.
I have been out on Pandora and in parks on several occasions while Bylaw, Works and Police staff are active, and what I have seen so far is that staff have followed these policies. I have also been to facilities where impounded materials are stored, and I have seen materials being disposed of in dump trucks – generally materials that are abandoned or that people don’t want to take with them, and often soaked and soiled.
Having storage available for unhoused people to use would reduce some of these difficulties and I hope to see that established soon.
As noted above, this is my understanding. If anyone has a different understanding please let me know. And regarding specific cases of bylaw infractions or enforcement, please contact our Bylaw Services team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(By the way, I should say that – of course – none of this (homelessness, sheltering outdoors, etc) is OK. People need to be housed, and to receive the services that they need. I’ve written a bit about these broader issues and related points, e.g.