VICTORIA — An agreement that commits two levels of government to end current and future homeless encampments in British Columbia's capital city is a potential blueprint for similar deals, says the province's minister responsible for housing.
The memorandum of understanding between the provincial government and Victoria council formalizes the commitment to find indoor shelter for people living in parks and other outdoor areas, David Eby said Monday.
The agreement sets out roles and responsibilities of each government to find indoor living spaces by April 30 for those camped out in public areas, he said.
"I think this agreement is a template that I am hoping to replicate in other places," Eby said during a news conference.
While the deal in Victoria was forged out of crisis, Eby said he's hopeful similar agreements will become common in other cities.
Victoria council voted last week to reinstate a bylaw that requires people camping in parks to pack their belongings by 7 a.m. after it eased restrictions last year because the COVID-19 pandemic forced shelters to reduce available beds.
Victoria's Beacon Hill Park has been the site of a camp of homeless people that has grown during the pandemic, bringing with it crime and community resentment.
"We're going to move people out of parks," Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said. "We're not going to let encampments happen again."
She said the agreement is a shared commitment by the city and province to work together to end homeless camps by April 30 and continue that work until people are properly housed.
"That's a big commitment by the province. It's a big commitment by the city and we signed this memorandum of understanding to say we're going to do it," Helps said.
Eby announced an agreement earlier this month on securing more than 200 living spaces for people staying in Victoria's parks and other outdoor locations.
The understanding signed on Monday says the objective is the shared commitment "to prevent future camps by addressing medium- and long-term housing, health, mental health, cultural and social support needs."
Eby said the province has found indoor shelter space in buildings and other sites that are currently being converted to house people on a temporary basis.
He said people living in parks are being told they will have indoor shelter space as of April 30.
"It will also be made clear that they are not able to camp in parks the way they have been," said Eby. "We have spaces inside. Parks are for recreation, not camping."
The minister acknowledged that while he has reached one agreement, he still faces a dispute with the Okanagan city of Penticton, where the council says it will not renew a permit beyond March 31 to allow a shelter to operate.
"My door remains open for Penticton on how to move forward," Eby said. "I can't bear and won't sign off on a proposal that involves emptying out a homeless shelter into the local community."
Penticton will hold a special meeting of council on Tuesday that is closed to the public and media to discuss the latest correspondence from BC Housing on the shelter issue.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2021.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press