It’s been nearly two months since the province opened the doors of the former Central Care Home on Johnson Street to house the city’s homeless, but many of those living and working in the area are already fed up with their new neighbours.
Residents living in the condo next to the former care home at 844 Johnson St. say they have been harassed by people standing on the street in front of the building, the nights are often filled with screaming and other disturbances, and used needles have been found on the ground.
Tanya Gray moved into the building four months ago and is already making plans to move out once her lease is up at the end of October.
“It’s terrible. It’s really loud at night, the fire alarms are constantly going off. There’s a lot of people moving out of the building now,” said Gray, who’s scared to take her dogs out at night. “I know they need a place to go, but they shouldn’t be causing noise at night, making disturbances and being rude to people who are walking by and live in the area.”
Jan Steven Kryski has lived downtown for 10 years and has also noticed the neighbourhood change since the province purchased the vacant building and transformed it into 140 units of long-term supportive housing for people with an assortment of needs.
On one occasion, Steven Kryski was walking home in the middle of the afternoon when he encountered a group of guys standing on the sidewalk outside of the building. He didn’t talk to them, just kept walking, but one of the men started yelling and swearing at him.
“He got up and was starting to come at me, calling me all sorts of names. I just thought here we go. It’s the first time I felt unsafe in this city,” said Steven Kryski, who went straight to City Hall to see the mayor after the frightening encounter.
“It almost seems like they are out of control over there. There’s people screaming, there’s skill saws going on at 1 a.m. Where’s the control? Can you imagine if we acted like that in this building?”
The building is one of several facilities the province secured during the last several months in order to provide housing for the more than 80 people who were camped on the lawn of the Victoria courthouse for nearly a year.
Run by the Vancouver-based Portland Housing Society, the building is supposed to include home-support services, provide two meals a day and has medical staff on-site for first aid, addictions issues and health monitoring.
Part of the problem, said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, is that not all the supports have been put into place.
Helps has been through a number of Portland Housing Society properties in Vancouver (with some located beside high end condos) that she said have managed to fit in with the surrounding neighbourhood.
With the Johnson Street property, Helps said there will be challenges and ongoing problems, but it’s in everyone’s interest to make it work.
“To treat 140 people (some who haven’t been housed in a long time) is a lot when you don’t have the full compliment of resources. My understanding is that it’s being resolved and everyone is working hard and quickly to find those resources,” said Helps.
“This is a hard situation and I really feel for the neighbours.”
Frustrated residents recently aired their concerns during a meeting with community organizations, including the city, B.C. Housing, and police. Another meeting will be held in about two weeks.