Local governments need to do their part to deal with tent camps and provide housing alternatives for people living outside during the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier John Horgan says.
Horgan was asked about the ongoing conflict between campers and residents around Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, which along with Vancouver has received most of the media attention and money to buy hotels with food and other services for transients. Victoria council has declined to enforce its anti-camping bylaw due to COVID-19, which Horgan said is a mistake, and Mayor Lisa Helps has demanded the province buy more hotels after millions have already been spent to do that in the two cities.
“I appeal to the city of Victoria to step up with some genuine ideas, rather than just turning to other orders of government,” Horgan told reporters at a student housing announcement at the University of Victoria July 27. “There is a bylaw in place that says you can’t camp during the day, you have to fold up your camp in the morning. Victoria has chosen not to enforce that because they believe that in a pandemic, that would be ill-advised. I disagree with that, but that’s not my responsibility. The city is responsible for their bylaws and they can and should manage them.”
He said there are ongoing discussions with the federal government on pressing housing issues, and there are other places that need help.
“It’s not just Victoria and Vancouver where there are challenges with homelessness – Nanaimo, Smithers, Kamloops, Kelowna, right across the province,” Horgan said. “It’s in rural British Columbia as well, and we all have to work together as a community to find these solutions. And that means working to accelerate zoning issues in municipalities so we can build modular housing and not-for-profit housing, and make sure that we’re putting wraparound services with those units, so that that people who have mental health and addiction challenges can get the help that they need.”
Social Development Minister Shane Simpson noted recently that urban tent camps often have a protest function where people who are already housed come out to demand more housing.
Another protest has derailed the province’s move to allow temporary hospital detention of young people treated for street drug overdoses for up to a week. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy confirmed July 27 that legislation to allow it has been withdrawn, as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs were staging a Vancouver news conference to denounce it.
“What we’ve been proposing is based on a pilot at B.C. Children’s Hospital and is very different than what the opposition has talked about, or what exists in places like Alberta,” Darcy said in a statement.
The ministry worked with the First Nations Health Council, First Nations Health Authority, Métis Nation B.C., First Nations Health Directors Association and the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society to develop the amendments.