More security measures added around overdose prevention sites

Our Place now has 24-hour security patrolling a two-block area of Pandora Avenue and Johnson Street

In an effort to address the concerns of neighbours nervous about the new overdose prevention site at Our Place, 24-hour security has been added to patrol a two-block area of Pandora Avenue and Johnson Street.

The decision to add security patrols wasn’t based on any unusual activity in the area, noted Our Place spokesperson Grant McKenzie, but is simply to make sure its neighbours feel safe.

“We haven’t seen an increase in drug dealing in the area, but whenever there’s vulnerable people, those are going to be the customers the drug dealers are looking for so there’s always going to be drug dealers around. It’s something we certainly don’t want to see,” said McKenzie, noting the neighbouring Victoria Conservatory of Music has a lot of children coming and going.

“They have concerts at night so we wanted to make sure they are feeling safe and secure.”

In response to the growing number of drug-related deaths, the province has set up overdose prevention sites at overdose hot spots in Vancouver and Victoria — including one that opened in December in the Our Place courtyard.

The small orange shipping container being used as the site contains drug supplies, a peer support worker to provide education and a paramedic on hand at all times in case of an overdose. During its first month of operation, about 115 people visited the site more than 1,500 times, averaging between 55 to 65 visits per day.

So far, 25 overdoses have occurred, but none of them have been fatal. About 20 new people use the site every week, with 70 per cent of them between the ages of 19 and 39.

Another overdose prevention site has been set up at the housing facility at 844 Johnson Street, where the bulk of tent city residents now live, and a third site is planned to open soon in Rock Bay.

Andy Bond, senior director of housing for Portland Housing Society (PHS), which operates the facility on Johnson Street, said the overdose prevention site (for residents only) is averaging about 20 users per day and has had at least three interventions since it opened last month.

Even without the overdose prevention site, the facility, which houses 147 residents and opened in late summer, has generated much concern from neighbours, but Bond said much of those concerns and the impact residents are having on the neighbourhood have been addressed.

That’s largely because all of its support staff are now in place, consisting of four mental health care workers there 24-7, two home support workers there five days a week, a full time nurse and a physician who comes twice a week.

“I think it’s (problems) are continuing on a downward trend. We are really just getting engaged with more and more of the residents,” said Bond, noting about 10 residents have been connected with family to move into more appropriate housing with less supports, and a couple more have gone into treatment, but the facility is still at capacity.

“There’s certainly no shortage of homeless people waiting for housing.”

The 24-hour security patrol, which is part of a joint security arrangement with PHS, is the latest amongst a handful of security measures recently added on Pandora Avenue and Johnson Street, which has become a patrol priority for Victoria police, targeting loitering and drug dealing.

Last month, the Central Baptist Church installed a “decorative fence” along the front of its property to reduce crime pertaining to drugs and make it a safer space. A tall metal barrier has also been installed around the 844 Johnson Street building at the recommendation of Victoria police.

McKenzie noted the security guards aren’t just there for security, but they can also respond to incidents such as overdoses or medical-related issues in the area.

“I think that’s quite important because if they see someone in a doorway or stairwell they can check in and make sure they’re okay,” said McKenzie. “I like the idea of these guys being able to check on people. It’s quite easy for someone to fall through the cracks.”