This past week Victoria’s mayor and Victoria’s city council passed a motion 8 to 1 to consider establishing a designated tenting area in Topaz Park for Victoria’s homeless population. Since then, there has been a public outcry about the proposal –because a “designated temporary tenting area” by another name is a “tent city”.
At first blush, it would seem to be a quick and inexpensive fix to the problem. The homeless need shelter, a tent provides shelter and a designated tenting area has to be better than random encampments throughout the city – doesn’t it? Why not use a city park to provide land for the shelters of the homeless?
It really is rather incredible, that a problem as intractable and pervasive as homelessness has such an easy fix. After all, if the problem was as easy as a “temporary tenting area” why has it not been tried before? (Never mind that the “tent cities” that sprung up at the Cridge Center, St. Ann’s Academy, Beacon Hill Park in the past were unmitigated disasters that cost nearly a half-million in policing costs – but those were “tent cities” not formally “designated temporary tenting areas”).
After all – what could go wrong with congregating a population that has a high incidence of addiction, mental health struggles, and various other problems in a public park? What could go wrong with failing to provide showers and food and adequate washroom facilities (never mind the intensive counselling and assistance many of these people would need to actually end their struggle with homelessness)?
So will the city be on the hook when the surrounding neighbourhood finds that property crimes skyrocket? Will the city be on the hook when a child is injured by a needle discarded in an adjacent play area? What about when one of the residents of the “temporary tenting area” assaults another? After all, such problems are foreseeable – does the city not have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of the residents of the “temporary tenting area” and the neighbourhood around it?
On further thought, not only is a “temporary tenting area” a very bad idea, it is a complete non-solution to the problem while creating a multitude of other problems – both for the homeless and for the surrounding neighbourhood. Further, if a “temporary tenting area” is established at Topaz park then, what park is next?
This idea deserves a "Public Policy Darwin Award" - for taking a serious problem and making it worse.