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Sheltering in Gonzales Neighbourhood

September 2023

The GNA recognises that the issue of homelessness is a highly complex problem with no easy solutions, and that sheltering in parks is a poor option for people without housing as well as a safety concern for housed residents. Gonzales parks have been designated for sheltering since the start of the pandemic.

Recently Victoria City Councillors have been considering options to reduce to the number of parks (with washrooms) where overnight sheltering is permitted. The situation is confusing to local residents. In particular, there have been discussions about closing to sheltering most of the parks which have experienced large numbers of sheltering individuals over the last several years, including Vic West, Irving, Topaz and Stadacona Parks. There has been no discussion that we are aware of to remove Gonzales Beach or Pemberton parks from the sheltering list, and one of the options considered would leave Gonzales and Pemberton, along with Oaklands, as the only three parks open to sheltering. (See Times-Colonist article here) The GNA has recently expressed concerns to the city about concentrating sheltering in this neighbourhood.

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Pemberton and Gonzales Beach Parks

Our understanding is that council has passed a motion to reduce the number of sheltering parks to 5 (from 8), and that no motion has yet been passed (as of October 20th, 2023) to further reduce that to only 3 parks. Under the 5 park scenario, of the 14 neighbourhoods in the city, 10 have no sheltering parks, 3 have one park, and only Gonzales has 2. Considering that Gonzales is only a small neighbourhood (7% of the City's area) it seems unreasonable that 40% of the City's sheltering parks would be designated here. Gonzales' two parks are only 700 metres apart, further emphasising that the City has done a poor job of distributing the parks fairly throughout the city. Under the three park scenario being discussed, the Gonzales neighbourhood would have 2/3 (67%) of sheltering parks, potentially concentrating most sheltering in the entire city here in Gonzales.

See the neighbourhood map above and to the right, showing the 5 currently proposed sheltering parks in red, and all other parks in green. And see the neighbourhood map immediately to the right, which shows the distribution of the sheltering parks in the 3 park scenario.

 

Note that Gonzales Park is located in the bottom right corner of these maps but is hard to see at this scale. 

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Gonzales Park is too small

Gonzales Park is by far the smallest of the sheltering parks, at only 0.4 hectares. It is only 87 metres across at its widest. Not only does this mean the park has little capacity for tents, it means that any tent will be right beside a pathway, road, sidewalk, washroom, or private property. Since the start of the pandemic some neighbours living immediately adjacent to the park have been very heavily impacted by shelters erected a few metres from their homes.

See the map to the right showing the comparative size of parks used for sheltering in the last several years. We note that Regatta Point Park has been removed from the sheltering list because it is small and close to a pathway. Gonzales park is about the same size and is intersected or bordered by sidewalks, roads, and pathways. It is unclear why Regatta Point was removed from the sheltering list and Gonzales was not.

See the sketch map to the right showing the dimensions of Gonzales Park. We have also provided a bulleted list of some of the sheltering prohibitions that further reduce sheltering area in city parks.

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Poor Places for Sheltering

From the perspective of unhoused people, Gonzales Beach Park is a poor choice for sheltering because (a) it is remote from the services and supports of the downtown area, including potential life-saving first response for overdoses, (b) the park is so small that there will be little to no buffer space between adjacent tents, (c) unlike every other city park that has been used for sheltering, Gonzales Beach is exposed to the brunt of seasonal gale-force storms that are nearly impossible to tent in. Pemberton Park is also smaller than most other sheltering parks and has a playground and ball diamond.

Homeless sheltering is not ending

We are concerned that the City is concentrating sheltering in fewer parks on the assumption that the number of people experiencing homelessness is declining and will continue to do so. This seems unrealistic. People will continue to fall into homelessness, and people without the means to secure housing will continue to migrate here from other parts of the country. In addition, there are people already in Victoria who are sleeping in public spaces because they either do not wish to live in transitional housing or have been repeatedly evicted from such facilities. We are concerned that the two parks in Gonzales and the one (or three) park(s) in the rest of Victoria will become the permanent locations for sheltering those people who are most difficult to house.

Criteria for Sheltering Parks

It has been suggested to the City by some of our members that they consider applying the following criteria when selecting parks to be designated for sheltering.

1. A park to be designated for sheltering should not be a regionally significant, heavily visited park that attracts users from all over, in order to (a) provide some opportunity for privacy for those sheltering, (b) reduce the potential for negative interactions between unhoused people and the visiting public, and (c) to minimise the impact on public recreational use of busy city parks.

 

2. A park to be designated for sheltering should be larger than 3.0 hectares in order to (a) provide some opportunity for spacing between campsites and privacy for those sheltering, and (b) reduce the potential for negative interactions between unhoused people and the visiting public.

 

3. A park to be designated for sheltering must be located in an area that is not subject to particularly severe weather conditions, especially wind, that may increase the risks of hypothermia and cold injuries to vulnerable people.

 

4. A park to be designated for sheltering should not be within a larger conservation area such as a migratory bird sanctuary.

If you are concerned

If you are concerned about the future of sheltering in Gonzales or Pemberton Parks, consider contacting the mayor or city councillors. You can find a complete list of phone numbers and email addresses by clicking here. If emailing you may wish to cc the GNA on your email at gonzalesneighbours@gmail.com.

 

Note that you can send one e-mail that goes to all members of council or associated staff members by emailing to: mayorandcouncil@victoria.ca

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