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'Angst and anxiety' as tenters drift back to Pandora a day after massive sweep

Work to help everyone living on the block find housing by the end of the year is now in jeopardy, says Our Place CEO

About a dozen tents had returned to Pandora Avenue Friday morning after a massive cleanup the previous day that saw the majority of people sheltering on the 900-block dispersed and their belongings impounded.

Julian Daly, CEO of Our Place Society, which provides support services in the area, said the atmosphere was subdued among those who had returned.

“People are still very anxious because they don’t know what’s going to happen today and whether those that are still there will be moved on again,” Daly said.

Victoria bylaw officers spent Thursday morning clearing the block, removing garbage and impounding people’s belongings. By the afternoon, roughly 40 to 50 tents had been reduced to three.

Bylaw staff are on the block most mornings to clear garbage and ask some people to take their tents down, but they don’t usually require everyone to pack up and leave, Our Place staff said Thursday.

Bylaw officers returned Friday with “hugely reduced numbers” compared to the previous day, Daly said.

“It looks like a more typical day of bylaw interactions. They didn’t appear to be, when I was there at least, removing tents in the way that they were yesterday,” he said.

Our Place announced last week that it had a goal to help everyone living on the block find housing by the end of the year. Outreach workers had surveyed 77 people to determine on an individual basis what it would take to get them into housing.

That work is now in jeopardy, Daly said, adding the trust that outreach workers have spent months building will likely take a hit.

“Because some people will wonder: ‘Did we know about it? Were we part of it?”

Many on the street are suspicious of authorities, a category that includes outreach workers, so gaining back their trust will be a challenge, Daly said.

Staff at SOLID Outreach, which operates a drop-in program and a supervised-consumption service and has outreach workers on the block, have been trying to help people store their belongings after the cleanup, said Fred Cameron, SOLID’s senior manager in charge of housing.

Cameron said he saw people Thursday evening carrying backpacks and other belongings around James Bay who appeared to be looking for somewhere to set up shelter.

The block was quieter Friday than usual, and people were experiencing “angst and anxiety,” he said.

With people displaced, their social connections have been broken and some may end up buying drugs from sources they don’t know, leading to a higher risk of overdose, Cameron said.

“Stability is what allows people to function on a day-to-day basis. And once they lose that, life becomes incredibly unpredictable,” he said.

Sandra Severs, president of the Victoria Downtown Residents Association, said residents want to see a long-term solution for their neighbours who are sheltering on Pandora.

Driving people away from the block “is pointless,” she said.

“It’s just a disruption of that carefully crafted plan that Our Place was working on,” Severs said.

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