Cost of tent city tops $567,000: city report

As the tent city on the lawns of the Victoria courthouse continues to balloon, so does the City of Victoria's bill for the encampment.

As the tent city on the lawns of the Victoria courthouse continues to balloon, so does the City of Victoria’s bill for the encampment.

According to a recent staff report, the city has spent more than $1.6 million managing issues related to homelessness over the past 12 months — more than $567,000 of those costs are directly related to tent city.

Most of the costs come from the city expanding its resources to the area. Parks staff provide daily patrols of the neighbourhood, collecting litter from streets and disposing of materials, public works staff clean streets and sidewalks in the area of the courthouse, and bylaw officers provide neighbourhood patrols twice a day, seven days a week.

Victoria police have also increased its presence in the area with two more officers patrolling three to five blocks in the vicinity of tent city in six-hour shifts, at a cost of $113,000.

Acting chief constable Del Manak estimates the monthly cost of dedicated police resources to tent city is approximately $15,400 a week and $61,000 a month, which excludes police responses to the site for calls for services such as medical emergencies, assaults, stabbings, overdoses and subsequent investigations, and site visits to assess the encampment.

If tent city continues to operate, staff estimate it will cost $92,700 a month.

“This is a moving target. Until tent city is dealt with, the cost for the city will continue to increase,” said city manager Jason Johnson during a meeting Thursday.

Dozens of people have been camping on the provincially-owned lawns of the courthouse since the fall.  Since then police have noted an increase in crime in the area, leaving many residents frustrated. Last month, three people were assaulted on separate occasions.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the way tent city has been handled has left a sour taste in residents’ mouths.

“An organized structured tent city will never work in the City of Victoria because of the legacy of what’s happened on the lawns of the courthouse,” she said, adding in Eugene, Oregon, the city has successfully rolled out so-called rest stops where the homeless can live.

“I doubt we’ll be able to do that here. We’ve ruined things a little bit in terms of what can happen and how this tent city has played out. It’s very unfortunate.”

Despite the cost to the city, Coun. Marianne Alto said the camp has pushed the province to help house some of the region’s homeless population by opening 128 new sheltering spaces. Most recently, the province announced it’s looking to open two more shelters to house people at tent city.

“I don’t think we should overlook the uncomfortable fact that the existence of tent city has provided an impetus for the province to take action like they never had before,” said Alto, noting the city needs to work towards filling the gap between temporary shelters and permanent housing.

“But where’s the feds? I want to see the feds. It’s time for us to renew our calls. We can’t do this alone.”

Coun. Jeremy Loveday said the report serves as a reminder of the need to provide permanent housing rather than trying to manage the homeless.

The province filed a second application for an injunction recently, which included 69 affidavits for everything from safety to crime, to evict the campers from the encampment on Burdett Avenue. The application comes in response to a safety inspection last month by the Office of the Fire Commissioner who deemed the site unsafe.

In April, the province applied for its first injunction, but that request was denied by Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson. Hinkson has assigned himself to hear the application and set hearing dates for June 27 and 28.