Victoria decides to hear public before passing no-camping zone bylaw

By Bill Cleverley, September 2, 2010 1:02 PM

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The public will have a chance to wade into the debate before Victoria councillors make boulevards and medians no-camping zones.

With about a dozen poverty activists looking on, city councillors decided this morning that they would support an amendment to the city’s streets and traffic bylaw prohibiting camping in road allowances. But they delayed passing the amendment until after a hearing Sept. 23.

Only Coun. Philippe Lucas voted against the move.

The amendment, if passed, will bring to an end a makeshift tent city that has sprung up on the median of 900 Pandora Avenue, fronting the Our Place drop-in shelter and soup kitchen.

Representatives from four poverty groups held a media conference prior to the meeting and urged council to put a moratorium on any changes until issues such as creation of a safe injection site or a fixed needle exchange and supportive housing are addressed.

“It’s an very underhanded way to criminalize poverty,” said Tamara Herman, of Harm Reduction Victoria.

However, city engineering staff and Victoria police say that in an area like Pandora, which sees some 15,000 vehicles a day drive by, that the median is just too dangerous for camping. Police say there have been three pedestrian fatalities in the past 18 months.

In the past two years since Our Place opened, and in the wake of a 2008 B.C. Supreme Court decision striking down the city’s prohibition on camping in parks, the 900-block Pandora has become a focal point for drug use and dealing, homeless camping and prostitution. Police calls to the area have sky rocketed.

The amendment would only prohibit camping on medians and boulevards — camping would still be allowed in city parks between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., in accordance with the city’s bylaw created after the Supreme Court ruling.

Although the poverty activists worry the bylaw will just push the Pandora problems somehwere else, councillors were told not everyone tenting on Pandora is homeless and social agencies are already reaching out to those in the area.

Of the 62 people regularly camping there, 50 are on social assistance and at least 19 have housing, according to Laurie Duncan, acting assistant deputy minister with Housing and Social Development.

And while about 31 are homeless, emergency shelter beds are available, Duncan told councillors.

Eighty-five temporary beds were opened up in July and of those 30 are unused on any given night.

Outreach workers have approached all of those camping on Pandora to offer assistance, but only one accepted. The others have either refused or are still considering it. Nine people have been referred to Vancouver Health Authority Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams due to severe mental health and addictions issues while seven of the 62 were already being served by ACT teams.

Mayor Dean Fortin also stressed that over the coming weeks, tenters on Pandora will again be approached and offered assistance.

Meanwhile, Lucas urged his fellow councillors to slow down. He said people making Pandora Green their home are at greater risk to die from HIV AIDs than they are being struck by a car.

“I do think we need to get people off of that median but we need to give them better options than we are right now and I think that would include long term housing with support and immediate detox on demand,” Lucas said in an earlier interview..

“I think unless we make that available we lose the moral, legal and frankly logical right to be moving these folks on.”

In a separate item, councillors agreed to grant Our Place up to an additional $30,000 in funding so it can remain open between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. at least through to the end of the year.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

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