A shopping cart sits in front of a tent pitched in Beacon Hill Park last summer. The cost of cleaning up after park campers is increasing, according to City parks staff. (News files)

Council approves $200,000 to clean up Victoria parks after homeless campers

Parks staff over budget for cleanup last year

Cleaning up after people sheltering overnight in Victoria parks continues to cost City taxpayers money.

But despite a request from City staff to increase funding for the task for 2018-19 by 50 per cent to $300,000, due to an increase in the number of campers, council voted to leave it at $200,000 in the draft budget.

Thomas Soulliere, the City’s director of parks, recreation and facilities, told council he wished he could report a decrease in need.

“Our experience over the past year has indicated that demand is quite steady,” he said, adding the amount spent on cleanup this fiscal year is on track to exceed the budgeted amount. “The demand is certainly there and safety is priority for our team.”

RELATED: Tenting in Victoria city parks is up this summer

Councillors debated whether spending on park cleanup was the best use of money, rather than opening more shelters or creating housing for homeless people.

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said until there is more access to housing and shelter space, the City needs to allow the parks for camping.

“We’re not there yet,” she said, noting that people continue to be turned away from shelters filled to capacity.

Mayor Lisa Helps added, “Parks are unfortunately a place where people need to shelter. That’s going to be the case until people can get more housing.”

RELATED: Roaming tent city lands in Colwood

Coun. Geoff Young said the City should focus on opening up more shelter beds and banning camping in parks, due to the damage done by campers. He said park space has been made less enjoyable for others as a result.

“People used to like living above a park. Now you live above a park and you’re likely to get violent, profane, screaming fights below your window,” Young said. “You’re likely to have people coming in and plugging into your outdoor plugs, or … using your water taps.

“People who want to use the parks early in the morning may find they’re essentially occupied and turned into campgrounds.”

Thornton-Joe also said she has heard reports from veterinarians that some dogs are becoming ill after ingesting items left behind in parks, such as pharmaceuticals.

Staff was asked to bring back a report on the cleanup expenditures by the end of this summer.

lauren.boothby@vicnews.com

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