Rough Tides for those Living on the Water
Last week we said homelessness comes in many forms. It also occurs in unexpected places. We are familiar with people avoiding homelessness by turning to emergency shelters, or even sleeping in a tent in the park and other public spaces. It often goes unrecognized that some people in BC avoid homelessness by living on boats in the many waterways of our gorgeous province. Often they take semi-permanent moorage at free docks. Currently, emergency shelters in Victoria are at 112% capacity, and turn more people away than ever before. The city has guaranteed that they won’t remove people who sleep in parks and other public spaces. However, the housing-security of those whose homes are boats on BC’s waterways has been in jeopardy for some time.
It’s a Complicated Issue
It seems there has always been a debate about semi-permanent moorage in Victoria. Recent controversy has risen over residence who live on boats moored at the Gorge waterway. Residence of the area cite excessive noise as the primary complaint, however; concern has been expressed regarding the environmental impact of some of these boats, which are said to be leaking fuel and bathroom waste directly into the water.
The Gorge waterway is celebrated as one of the few clean swimming areas in Greater Victoria, however; long term residence are familiar with a time when the water was too polluted to swim in.
This year marks the 14th anniversary of The Annual Gorge Waterway Cleanup – a community based response to pollution in the Gorge. Currently the city of Victoria is discussing the implementation of mandatory mooring fees as a way to push semi-permanent residence out of the Gorge waterway. This action is intended to reduce noise and pollution in the Gorge waterway. By imposing mandatory mooring fees, the city of Victoria will increase the number of people at risk of homelessness.
Who’s in Charge of the Waterways Anyways?
Discussion about semi-permanent mooring in Victoria tends to dissolve into uncertainty over who is in control of the shorelines and waterways. In British Columbia, shorelines are presided over at the federal, provincial, and municipal level. First Nations bands have jurisdiction over the waterways on and around reserve land.
Federal – technically the federal government has jurisdiction over the water from the level of the lowest tide to 12 km out, however; their primary responsibilities are transportation and fisheries. The federal government has been deferring a great deal of jurisdiction to the provincial government over the past 50 years. Port Authorities are also established under federal legislation to manage major harbors and facilities that are federal Crown lands, such as Victoria.
Provincial – The provincial government owns most of the foreshore (the area between the lowest tide and land), as well as the beds of inland seas. The Integrated Land Management Bureau (under the Ministry of Forests and Range) administers to these areas and issues permits, licences or leases for a wide range of uses, including public mooring.
Municipal – The Province issues leases to allow for the use of coastal land. When the Province issues tenure in the form of a foreshore lease, the leaseholder may restrict public access to the leased area. The city of Victoria has the power to restrict public access to mooring along shoreline areas such as the Gorge waterway.
Waterways as Public Space
A similar case rears up every summer regarding tents as temporary abodes in Victoria. In 2008 the city ruled that it would remove the ban on tent living. The judge cited the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as key to the ruling – which guarantees life, liberty, and security of the person. This argument was successfully used to defend the right for homeless people to set up ‘temporary abodes’ in city parks and public spaces.
The Canadian government has stated that the public has a right “to land boats on and embark from the foreshore and the right of navigation, anchoring, mooring and fishing over lands covered by water.”
Many docks and waterways, like parks, are public spaces. According to the 2008 ruling, people are allowed to set up temporary abodes on public space.
There are more than 1,600 unique individuals who accessed emergency shelters last year in Victoria. With less than 500 emergency shelter beds, Victoria emergency shelters are forced to turn away a shocking number of people. If Victoria decides to add mooring fees to public docks, more people will be forced into an already overburdened system of emergency shelters.
This is seen as another process of gentrification, in which the poor are pushed further and further away in order to avoid homelessness and find affordable housing.
I live beside the Gorge and I have never experienced rowdy boat owners.
Most of the rowdiness comes from Gorge park, the swimming dock (where no boats moor) and related beaches – especially during the summertime when people are having fun at the water and occasionally drinking on the swimming dock, the beach and under the trees. Imposing mooring fees will chase out the semi-permanent residence, but will do little to address the noise problem.
The cleanliness of the Gorge waterway is important to all Victorian’s. Leaky boats and bad waste management practices are an environmental and health concern. Ensuring clean water at the Gorge and other waterways, without increasing risk of homelessness should be the city/province’s main priority. Increasing access to waste management systems and affordable repair services should be viewed as an alternative to imposing mandatory mooring fees.
This year for the annual Gorge waterways cleanup, lets practice transformative love. We can help the semi-permanent boat owners repair their homes and clean up their practices instead of evicting them.
We can help instead of Evict.
The Anawim Companion Society
Written by Brian Whin-Yates
Social Media Director
Addictions Research of BC (2013) “Facing Homelessness: Greater Victoria Report on Housing & Supports 2012/2013?
McGill Daily (2008) Victoria allows Homeless to Sleep in Parks” Written by David G. Koch
Green Shores (2009) “Coastal Shore Jurisdiction in British Columbia”
Admiralty Law: Canadian maritime law, admilitary law and shipping law. (2005) “Part 1 – Who Controls the Offshore?”
Coastal Ecosystems: South Vancouver (2013) “Coastal Jurisdiction in BC”