Calls to Victoria police from the tent city area have jumped in the past month, but it would be a mistake to assume campers are the only cause, a senior police official says.
There has “definitely been an increase in violence” in tent city itself, but the most recent statistics reflect several abandoned 911 calls and abandoned property reports, said Insp. Scott McGregor.
From March 26 to April 22, 169 calls for assistance originated within two blocks of the tent city on Burdett Avenue and Quadra Street. In the following four weeks, there were 265 calls — including 50 made by tent city residents and 119 from people living in nearby homes.
Calls for assistance include both crimes and incidents of disorder that are not necessarily crimes: violence, drugs, property offences, traffic calls, noise complaints and checking on a person’s well-being.
The community is feeling an impact, McGregor said. But whether that impact can directly be related to tent city or Mount Edwards Court, since February home to 38 formerly homeless people, is difficult to say, he added.
“I don’t have confidence when you look at the numbers that you can draw a firm conclusion either that crime has increased or that all of this increase in calls for service is related to tent city,” McGregor said.
That said, “grave concerns” about increased violence over the past 28-day period prompted VicPD to reassign two officers to tent city itself starting last Saturday, he said. The two officers are in addition to two others who already spend most of their time dealing with tent city issues, but are not necessarily at the site.
Gillian Ley, a nearby homeowner and member of Mad As Hell Victoria, said the increase in calls indicates real, not perceived, problems.
“We are relieved to have the increased police presence,” Ley said. “It means they are close at hand to react to the ongoing and ever increasing violence, crime and overdoses.”
A man found unconscious Monday at the back door of her building could have died without quick response by three police vehicles, two ambulances and the fire department, she said.
The neighbourhood is against the province’s plan to turn Mount Edwards Court into low-barrier housing for 100 people, she said.
“The bottom line is that Mount Edwards Court is an indoor tent city with no curfew. Residents can refuse counselling, they can use drugs and alcohol and are free to come and go as they please,” she said in an email to the Times Colonist. “The only way they can support their habits is to steal from the neighbourhood as they are already doing.”
Ley recently received a letter from Housing Minister Rich Coleman.
“The safety of the community, particularly the students who attend the local school, is being given the highest priority, and a number of security measures have been put in place,” Coleman said in the letter.
“I believe that as British Columbians, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to help people in our communities who need it most. With projects like the Mount Edwards facility, I believe we can do this safely and in a manner that makes our community stronger.”