Residents of a Victoria neighbourhood are furious about a homeless camp outside the city’s courthouse – and they’re laying the blame squarely at the feet of the provincial government.
Stephen Hammond, with the residents group “Mad as Hell,” says a letter from the Victoria Police Department to the government proves the province saw the problem happening and didn’t do anything about it.
Hammond says the camp has expand to the point where it takes up pretty much the entire plot of land, and that it’s become both unsafe and unsanitary.
“It’s horrible in there – and no one in their right mind would say this is a good place for people to be. It’s awful. When I talk to anyone in the social service agencies they say this is a horrible dangerous place.”
And he says the problems from the camp are spilling over into the neighbourhood – a problem his group has started to document on their website.
“There’s pictures of human feces, there’s pictures of needles everywhere, there’s pictures of people doing drugs or passed out or being arrested. It has grown into the neighbourhood.”
Hammond says things have only reached this stage because the province let them.
The camp is technically on property owned by the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizen Services.
Hammond says in the past, staff would allow people to camp overnight and then ask them to move in the morning.
He says that hasn’t been happening lately, and the letter from the Vic PD to the province, warning of a growing problem, proves it was a deliberate decision.
“It didn’t just happen. It was actually an Assistant Deputy Minister as well as an Executive Director of the Court House who actually were very clear that they were not moving those tenters, and when all of those residents… it wasn’t just the police, all the residents said you’ve got move these people from camping during the day, they said “nope, we’re keeping them here.”
Hammond says it’s been six years since Victoria’s camping bylaw came into force, giving the province plenty of time to develop housing options for the city’s homeless.
But he says the reaction to the encampment has now left them scrambling to break down the camp and find “knee jerk” housing solutions for its inhabitants, a task he says could cost up to $5-million.
“If you want to help the homeless, then you actually do something. Then you actually would have found something for them, you don’t create this thing that now we are spending millions of dollars trying to undo. The police gave them very clear warnings that if in fact you allow this, this is exactly what’s going to happen.”
He says residents are also now worried campers could end up in a low-barrier shelter that’s being proposed in a residential area and near a school.
“For some people we’ve got to get housing – I get that, I understand that – but don’t put it in a residential area, don’t put it across the street from an elementary school.”
He says residents haven’t ruled out legal action, and feel the government should be on the hook for the property damage and security costs the encampment has saddled the community with.