Victoria residents appear to be divided over the encampments at Beacon Hill Park. Some believe the temporary tents are necessary until housing becomes available. Others want them gone, fearing damage to the park or a threat to public safety. As Capital Daily has previously reported, one group is even raising funds for a lawsuit to force the city to end daytime camping there. After spending time in the park recently, here's what we saw – all captured by photographer James MacDonald.
This secluded patch of Beacon Hill Park was once home to six tents and approximately 10 people. On July 28 the Supreme Court of BC granted the City of Victoria an injunction to move campers from this area to less “environmentally sensitive” parts of the park.
A tent sits alone along the soccer field, one of the places where temporary sheltering is permitted, according to a map the City of Victoria provided to the tenters.
We noticed around 50 tents scattered across Beacon Hill Park during the daytime. This camping community, which sits behind the soccer field and is parallel to Douglas Street, was the most densely populated area. “We are like zoo animals. The stigmatization is like racism,” said a tenter who requested anonymity, claiming that people visit their camp to voice concern or gawk.
“People don’t want to be shoved into a shelter. They need their own home. On the street people are shut out, rejected. You lose your dignity, integrity, individualization. How are they going to be after coming out of that experience?” said Shea Smith, tenter, activist, and host of The Homeless Idea podcast.
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This sign is attached to one tent; many others bear similar posters, some provided by local nonprofit organizations.
Tents are visible from the intersection that marks the entrance of Beacon Hill Park. The injunction moved several tenters from more secluded areas of the park into street view.
“Human dwelling” – the tent Shae Smith shares with his partner and dog.
Beacon Hill Park, a place of cultural significance to the Lekwungen people, who call it MEEGAN, is described by the City as “the crowning jewel in Victoria’s park system,” with approximately 740,000 square metres of parkland. The case filed by the City to relocate the tenters intends to protect environmentally sensitive areas of the park, such as this one.
Former Beacon Hill tenter Sandy Fisher guides his bike through the former campsite. Fisher, who now resides in Centennial Square, was the only tenter who attended the hearing for the injunction. He petitioned for it to be dismissed on the grounds that “colonial law” did not apply to the region.
Debris left behind from a former tent site. “We all have different courses and goals. Apart from the garbage, this area will recover quickly,” explained Fisher.
A local resident soaks in the park surrounded by tents.