Victoria police have spent more than $140,000 in order to keep residents of tent city and those in the surrounding areas safe over the past few months, according to the police department’s acting chief.
Since May, police deployed more officers to monitor the site and the three blocks surrounding it. Additionally, other officers have been deployed on site in 12-hour shifts.
According to acting police chief Del Manak, at first, the increased police presence was met with resistance by some living at the tent city on Burdett Avenue, adding the encampment was attracting gang associates that preyed on residents.
However, since then, police have formed a relationship both with tent city residents and residents in the surrounding area, most of whom feel more comfortable with law enforcement watching over them. Gang activity has also decreased significantly.
“The perception of safety for occupants has significantly increased. Violence has gone down and safety has increased significantly. Having officers has been advantageous on many levels,” Manak told city council during a Thursday meeting.
“The demographic has shifted in the sense that a lot of the people that were there for drug dealing have left the site because they know there’s a strong police presence there . . . There has been a sense of calmness as a result of us being there.”
In the months officers have been monitoring the site, police took a few suspects into custody who had outstanding warrants, prevented assaults, and helped perform CPR on a person suffering a drug overdose.
In May, Victoria city council approved a $113,000 budget increase for police to have additional officers monitor the site. Of that, police have used $50,400. Officers deployed on site have come at a cost of $91,000 out of the police’s budget, so far.
Manak said the department is in discussions with the provincial government to potentially foot a portion of the bill.
Earlier this month, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson granted the province’s request for an injunction to remove the roughly 80 campers on the grounds the site is unsafe.
With tent city expected to come to a close on Aug. 8, Coun. Ben Isitt said the last few months have shown that a designated tenting area for the city’s homeless would be more beneficial than dispersing them back into city parks.
“It’s a way to manage outdoor sheltering in a way that’s safe for the people sleeping there and the broader community,” said Isitt, adding the chief justice saw the benefits of a tent city. “I think we need to turn the page on an outdated approach to street issues and realize that when you have an inter-agency approach with fire safety provisions and police in place, it’s far preferable to the head in the sand approach that does a disservice to people.”
However, Coun. Geoff Young disagreed, noting it’s not a sustainable model and is in “defiance of all facts and experience that we’ve received.”
“The fact is the tent city, by its very nature, by the fact of its permanence, creates problems that are difficult to address,” he said. “Reallocating funds to temporary shelters or permanent housing is a far better use of resources and this kind of approach is not one we should try and continue.”