What to do with the 40-plus tents now pitched on the grass beside the Victoria courthouse won’t be decided any time soon.
“It’s a delicate issue that we want to do well,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. “What will happen if the province goes in there and gets an injunction and makes people move out, they are going to move back to Kings Park, they are going to move back to Haggart Park.”
The patch of green space along Burdett Avenue is owned by the province, therefore police need a request to remove campers. For city parks, bylaws only allow sheltering between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.
With no police forcing campers to pack up and leave every morning, the green space is growing popular among the homeless. One man who used to shelter at Kings Park said he’s hit the jackpot with the courthouse location.
Helps said so far the campers have been “pretty orderly,” but the city has received complaints from those living nearby. The timing of the matter, however, is in the province’s hands, but the city is working with government officials to see if there’s somewhere the campers can be moved.
“Those conversations take time,” she said. “Our staff are meeting every day with provincial staff to try and find solutions.”
So far the province hasn’t said much about the growing tent city, only releasing short statements that said officials are in talks with the city to discuss potential solutions.
Meanwhile, those living nearby are fed up dealing with what they say has been an increase in thefts, dirty needles and damage to property. Every time there’s a few more tents, Don Allen said something else happens in the neighbourhood. As of last week, two tenants in the building he manages gave their notice and Allen has had to install bars on the windows of two suites.
Victoria police have been responding to public inquiries about the matter on Twitter and took to the social media site again on Thursday. In one tweet, police said from Nov. 1 to 26 officers have attended 34 calls for service in a one-block radius of the courthouse. Of those calls, only five can be attributed to the courthouse and pertain to unwanted camping.
“There has not been a signifiant increase in property crime or violent crime in that one block radius,” said police on Twitter.
“There has been one reported break-and-enter in the area this year in that one block radius…We can’t respond to what you don’t report.”
Police have noticed there’s been less homeless camping in the city parks they enforce, but that could be due to more people staying at shelters due to the colder temperatures as of late. Aside from a few evenings, Our Place has been full every night since October. Last week, it served 468 breakfasts in one morning, setting a new record.
Located across the street from the tent city, members of the Christ Church Cathedral congregation have gone to visit the campers and listen to their needs.
Reverend Ansley Tucker, dean of the cathedral, said the camp appears to be an orderly community and is asking citizens to deal with the fear of what they don’t understand.
“We need to find ways of expressing compassion to people who are not as fortunate as we are,” she said. “It’s not that they can’t afford housing, it’s that we don’t have the housing. We need to say loud and clear that proper shelter is a human right.”