Neighbours living next to a growing homeless camp that’s blossomed outside the Victoria courthouse are fed up dealing with thefts, dirty needles and damage to their property.
For the past 17 years, Don Allen has lived in his Fairfield apartment across the street from the courthouse on Burdett Avenue. The last six months he describes as horrifying.
According to Allen, usually four to five tents are set up in the green space at any given time, but that number has now grown to about 20 in the last few weeks and so has crime in the surrounding neighbourhood.
Working as the building manager, Allen sees and hears it all.
The back of the apartment building was recently broken into with three bikes stolen, and someone damaged his truck when they tried to break inside. On another occasion, a man was home reading the newspaper when he heard someone outside cutting his window screen.
Yelling and screaming is also a common occurrence during the evening hours and neighbours often find themselves picking up used needles on their property. One person found a needle in their vehicle tire, resulting in a flat.
So far Allen has had to install window bars inside a couple suites and received two notices from tenants wanting to move elsewhere.
“They’ve had enough. It’s unreal. It’s just non stop,” said Allen. “We used to go away every weekend to our trailer up Island, but now we’re scared to leave. They are always looking in our windows. They come around at night.”
Allen sees police at the camp on a regular basis and has reported the problems at his building. But according to the city and police, the green space is owned by the province, therefore it’s considered private property and city bylaws don’t apply.
The City of Victoria has a bylaw that states people can only shelter in a park between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., but since the property is owned by the province, police can’t remove the campers without a request.
“If there was an assault in the park, we would attend and deal with it just like any other private property. But specifically regarding the tenting and them staying there, it’s the property owner that would be the one to place a complaint with us,” said Victoria police spokesperson Const. Matt Rutherford, adding police do monitor the space.
“If they (area residents) are a victim of crime or they see any offence happening, give us a call.”
With no police forcing campers to pack up and leave every morning, the green space is becoming popular among the homeless community. On Tuesday morning, more than 20 tents were set up along the tree line. Steven L’heureux is among the people staying there.
L’heureux is currently waiting for housing and sleeps in a number of parks throughout the city. He said the campers recently held a meeting to lay down some rules such as cleaning up, no fighting, yelling or screaming so they don’t disturb neighbours.
“If there’s anybody that’s going to cause any trouble, the whole group is going to band together and say move on, get out,” L’heureux said.
The city has been made aware of the issue, with councillors responding to concerns from frustrated citizens. Officials have asked the province to deal with the matter.
When asked what the province plans to do, a B.C. government spokesperson responded to the Victoria News in a written statement, saying:
“The B.C. Government recognizes the importance of keeping the Victoria courthouse property clear and ensuring safe access by the public. We continue to work closely with the Victoria Police Department and the City of Victoria to find a long-term solution.”
Mel Wright lives in a condo near the courthouse and has talked with sheriffs, commissionaires and police about the campers outside, only to be left feeling like there is a lack of interest in finding a solution.
If no action is taken soon, he fears the park could have as many as 40 to 50 tents, potentially resulting more problems for those who live nearby.
In the mean time, all Allen and Wright can do is wait for answers. But like many of his neighbours, Allen is now reaching the end of his rope.
“Every time there’s a few more tents, something happens,” he said. “Eventually somebody is going to get hurt. There is so many people pissed off they ain’t going to take much more.”