Extra officers to be deployed to Beacon Hill Park, Burnside-Gorge

Victoria police are deploying extra officers to the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood and Beacon Hill Park for the month of August in response to complaints from residents and business owners.

Police say they will maintain a “consistent, high-visibility presence” in those areas.

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“Over the last number of months, we have been receiving a tremendous amount of concerns and complaints, just overall, around crime and also disorder,” Victoria Police Chief Del Manak.

Issues range from discarded needles and garbage to serious public-safety concerns involving firearms, knives, machetes and “behaviours where somebody’s been having a public-health crisis in a really public place,” Manak said.

The result is that many people in the Burnside-Gorge area and Beacon Hill Park don’t feel safe, he said, noting the goal is to use early intervention to prevent crime if possible.

Manak said police will let people know that they are there for their safety “and ask them what is it that they’re seeing in their neighbourhoods, what changes have they experienced.”

He wouldn’t say how many officers will be involved, but estimated the budget at $40,000.

Avery Stetski of the Burnside Gorge Community Association called adding officers a “terrific” step, noting crime has increased in the area. “And it’s nice to see the police presence addressing that.”

Permanent solutions such as supportive housing and mental-health treatment are needed, he added.

The move to deploy the officers comes as homeless people continue to camp in Beacon Hill, while smaller groups of campers have spread to Stadacona Park, Central Park and Cecelia Ravine in the Burnside Gorge area. On Friday afternoon, there were about 15 tents in the Cecelia Ravine camp below Burnside Road East at Alpha Street.

At Beacon Hill Park, Manak said he has been keeping a close watch on the city’s effort to move campers out of environmentally and culturally sensitive areas, as per an interim injunction granted Tuesday. About 38 tents or structures needed to be moved.

Campers are being relocated, not removed from the park, Manak said. “The goal is to allow the campers to move peacefully.”

Controversy over the campers at Beacon Hill Park has prompted a change.org petition from a group of parents calling for compassion for the tenters, and saying it’s still possible to enjoy the park’s playground, duck ponds and other features.

“When we pass a tent, we explain to our kids that everyone deserves a safe home like they have,” the petition says. “But for some people, their tent is their home, and it’s not fair.”

Petition supporter Carolyn Gisvorne said the idea is to temper negative rhetoric about the campers.

“I’ve continued to feel safe accessing the park with my two kids,” she said. “Homeless people have not impeded my safety at all.”

Results of the region’s 2020 Point-in-Time homeless count, released Friday, say that 1,523 people in Greater Victoria were homeless on the evening of March 11. That’s virtually unchanged from a previous count of 1,525 in 2018.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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