LONDON, ONT. -- About two dozen tents set up in Queen’s Park on Dundas Street will not be removed — for now.

“We are being compassionate recognizing the situation that our whole community is in,” explains city hall’s manager of Homeless Prevention, Craig Cooper.

London normally forbids tents from being erected in municipal parks.

But Cooper says the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of many shelters and drop-ins for Londoners experiencing homelessness.

As long as the tents are physically distanced, and the residents remain respectful of others in the park, the so-called ‘tent city’ can stay until the pandemic ends.

“It’s a compassionate approach, rather than just moving people along,” adds Cooper.

A man named Jason says the encampment has become a positive space for Londoners who are homeless, “People can be hemselves, express themselves, and not be harassed or bullied.”

But during his daily media briefing, mayor Ed Holder expressed concern about the spread of COVID-19.

“I think the challenge of the tent cities is that they do not promote, by their nature, the kind of hygiene and self distancing and physical distancing to keep people safe,” Holder said.

“It’s a risk you are just willing to take,” but Jason says the tent city is safer than other encampments and shelters. “It’s just one of those things.”

The city has equipped the park with portable toilets.

Cooper says outreach is already underway to prepare the residents of Queen’s Park to find proper accommodations after the pandemic.

“A tent city only perpetuates homelessness, so from our perspective, we want to work with these individuals.”

City hall is also temporarily permitting tents on a municipally-owned property on Bathurst Street.