Homelessness

City Worried About Beacon Hill Tent Encampments Hurting Garry Oaks, Lekwungen Sites

Encampments will remain, but be urged to move into other parts of the park

By Sean Craig
June 2, 2020
Homelessness

City Worried About Beacon Hill Tent Encampments Hurting Garry Oaks, Lekwungen Sites

Encampments will remain, but be urged to move into other parts of the park

By Sean Craig
Jun 2, 2020
Tents pitched in an ecologically sensitive Garry oak meadow in Beacon Hill Park (Sean Craig)
Homelessness

City Worried About Beacon Hill Tent Encampments Hurting Garry Oaks, Lekwungen Sites

Encampments will remain, but be urged to move into other parts of the park

By Sean Craig
June 2, 2020
City Worried About Beacon Hill Tent Encampments Hurting Garry Oaks, Lekwungen Sites
Tents pitched in an ecologically sensitive Garry oak meadow in Beacon Hill Park (Sean Craig)

The emergence of encampments at Beacon Hill Park has raised concerns at Victoria City Hall that ecologically sensitive areas and Indigenous cultural sites are at risk.

As of Sunday, there was at least one encampment with four tents situated at the park’s Garry oak meadows, one of the rarest types of ecosystem in the country. In Canada, they only exist on southeast Vancouver Island, in the Gulf Islands, and in the Fraser River Valley.

Thomas Soulliere, the city’s Director of Parks, confirmed that there are “shelters in locations that are considered sensitive ecological areas” at a Victoria Council committee meeting last Thursday, after multiple councilors said they have been informed of concerns about encampments situated in Beacon Hill.

“As part of the dialogue that quite a number of staff members are having with the individuals sheltering in those spaces, we are attempting to get them moved into other areas that are not as ecologically sensitive,” he added.

Soulliere said the city has put fencing up in certain areas and is adding signage to discourage people from setting up tents at ecological and culturally important sites.

The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team, an environmental charity, says that less than 5% of Garry oak and associated ecosystems in B.C. remain in near-natural condition. In addition, over 100 species of plants, animals and insects that live in the ecosystems are officially considered “at risk.”

“Beacon Hill Park has an abundance of natural features and sensitive ecology, most notably being the Garry oak ecosystem,” said Bill Eisenhauer, a city spokesperson, in a statement to The Capital. “In addition to the Garry oak ecosystem, an example of a threatened species is the Yellow Montane Violet, Viola praemorsa.”

Eisenhauer also noted that the park is home to several “known and potential sites” important to First Nations culture and history, such as a burial ground on Beacon Hill’s southeast slope. Songhees and Esquimalt Nations remains have been recovered at the park in recent years, and there are currently plans to build First Nations figures to mark the burial ground.

“For thousands of years, Beacon Hill has been a place of historical, cultural and sacred significance to the Lekwungen People,” he said, noting the Lekwungen People's cultivation of camas and other native plants shaped the local landscape.

“It is the responsibility of the City to act as steward for environmentally and culturally sensitive areas, preserving them for future generations” he added. “Due to this, overnight sheltering is not permitted in these areas.”

City Council voted last month to allow people to keep tents set up at Beacon Hill until June 25. While encampments at Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue have been cleared — and most of their former residents moved to temporary housing — about 90 people continue to reside at Beacon Hill, according to the city.

“We will have folks basically assessing the needs of people in the parks and seeing what form of housing they need,” said Jocelyn Jenkyns, Victoria’s city manager. “We are building a new census and we're sharing those names with BC Housing. So we're taking the same approach that was taken on Pandora and Topaz.”

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