In the last two weeks, Christ Church Cathedral Dean M. Ansley Tucker has received an earful about the activities in the vicinity of Victoria’s tent city.
The nearby Christ Church Cathedral School now conducts five sweeps a day for drug paraphernalia on its property. Within a four-day period last week, there were 16 incidents — seven that had to do with drug paraphernalia and the rest involving inappropriate behaviour, like shooting up drugs in the parking lot while children were being dismissed from school.
The church has also had to deal with human feces and needles on the lawn, and a naked person was recently found in the washroom.
Tucker has had enough.
“The cathedral has been really tolerant of some behaviours. This is not unusual in a downtown community. The issue for me is that they have escalated so rapidly in the past couple of weeks,” said Tucker, noting there was once a number of stable leaders in the tent city community.
“I’m not convinced that these episodes are involving people who actually live in the tent city, but they are people who visit the tent city for sure and they are just not able to control it themselves anymore. It’s at the point of which we have to say look, this is no longer working.”
Tensions were high at tent city on Tuesday as residents learned the church no longer views the camp as a tenable solution. One resident admits things at the camp have changed in the last few weeks and it hasn’t been for the good.
Victoria police visit the camp on a daily basis and recently released statistics on calls to the area during the last six months. Between November 2015 and April 2016, there were 760 calls for service in the area compared to 521 calls for the same period the previous year — an increase of 46 per cent.
The bulk of calls (242) are for assistance/unwanted person and public disorder (209). Calls for property crimes have also spiked significantly from 60 to 87, along with violence (from 15 to 39) and drugs (from nine to 27).
The camp has also caught the attention of the Victoria Fire Department, which regularly drives by. Until a few weeks ago, an open fire — deemed as sacred — was burning daily at the site, causing Victoria fire chief Paul Bruce frustration and concern.
Bruce said there are people attempting to deal with safety issues, but as more items are crammed onto the already packed site, the greater risk for fire.
“We’re in a position that if there was a fire on that site, we would extinguish it very quickly and effectively. It’s not a big tinder box. Our members know the issues,” said Bruce, noting the office of the fire commissioner has seized control of the site.
“The tolerance level of the neighbourhood has probably surpassed what’s expected of anybody. There has been a lot of resources dedicated to this site, it’s just how do you effectively deal with it?”
When tent city first blossomed last fall, Tucker believed it was beneficial in terms of drawing attention to the issue of homelessness. But instead of drawing sympathy, Tucker said the camp is now generating antipathy and is no longer working for the homeless themselves.
The solution, she said, isn’t clearing people off the site and letting them sleep in doorways, but finding an alternative venue and homes for those who can be housed.
Tucker plans to take her concerns to Housing Minister Rich Coleman and Victoria city council. In the meantime, she’ll continue to watch over the safety of children at the school.
“Some of the behaviours that are taking place outside the grounds of tent city itself, they do give reason for fear,” said Tucker. “It’s no longer a tenable solution.”
The province has tried to remove the campers from its property due to health and safety concerns, but a B.C. Supreme Court judge denied its request for an interim injunction in early April. A hearing for a permanent injunction has been set for Sept. 7, however, if circumstances degenerate before then, the province will be able to renew its application.
Running water was recently installed at the camp, which now has gravel paths, fire extinguishers and rat traps.