A loaded AR-15-style firearm and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were seized from a supportive housing facility on Blanshard Street, the latest incident in what the Victoria Police Department says is an increase in violent crime in the neighbourhood.
Tactical officers with the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team and members of the community services division raided a unit in the former Comfort Inn and Suites on Tuesday.
The province purchased the building in May for $18.5 million to house 90 people formerly living in tents in Topaz Park and on Pandora Avenue. Victoria police said no one was arrested in the raid. The investigation is ongoing.
Julian Daly, CEO of Our Place Society, the agency that manages the housing facility, said the suite was not occupied when police carried out the search warrant.
Daly said the resident has not returned and will be barred from the building.
“Clearly, we cannot have someone in the Comfort Inn who has weapons of that nature, so we had to discharge them,” he said.
Staff do weekly room checks to search for weapons or items that would put other residents at risk, Daly said, and guests are not allowed in the building.
It was the second firearm incident in the neighbourhood on Tuesday.
Matt Pavlic, a resident of the 140-unit Treelane Estates, said residents were trapped in their homes with little information when police with guns drawn surrounded the Travelodge at 123 Gorge Rd. East, which is being leased by B.C. Housing to provide emergency housing for people without homes.
“I think residents were fearful because, at the time, we had no idea what was going on,” he said.
The Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team responded after receiving reports that a man had fired a handgun at another person and entered a suite in the building. Three people were taken into custody without incident following a standoff. A search of the suite turned up a compressed-air-powered handgun, said police. No one was injured.
Pavlic, president of building’s strata association, said there has been an increase in trespassing and social disorder since former tenters moved into the hotel. Strata residents voted to spend $200,000 to install a gate and improved fencing around the building. “The break-ins are still increasing, the noise complaints are still increasing, the altercations with residents are still increasing,” Pavlic said.
A total of 344 people previously living in tents at Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue have moved into shelter secured by B.C. Housing after Solicitor General Mike Farnworth ordered that camps be evacuated.
Many have ended up in three former hotels in the Burnside Gorge area, which was already home to several permanent supportive housing facilities.
Victoria police spokesman Const. Cam MacIntyre said the neighbourhood has seen an increase in violent crime and property crime over the past year.
Between March 15 and June 20, Victoria police responded to 475 calls relating to property crime and 136 incidents of violent crime in Burnside Gorge.
Over the same period last year, there were 401 property crime-related calls and 113 reports of violent crime.
Officers have increased patrols and encouraged residents to join the Block Watch program.
The department is doing more community consultation, participating in virtual town hall meetings and monitoring crime trends to drive enforcement — part of Project Burnside Gorge Connect, which aims to increase police visibility and engagement, said police spokesman Bowen Osoko.
Heidi Hartman, B.C. Housing’s regional director for Vancouver Island, said the housing authority has increased security patrols of the hotels.
“We recognize it does take time for people to stabilize and for housing to integrate well into the community,” Hartman said.
People with a roof over their heads, and access to harm-reduction services and medical care will be more stable and have less of a negative impact on the surrounding community than if they were homeless, she said.
Steven Zylstra, who has lived at Treelane Estates for seven years, said he’s sympathetic to people who need housing, but he also thinks it’s unfair that he and his neighbours now live in fear.
“We’re not asking for much. We’re just asking to feel safe and secure in our own place,” he said.
Strata residents record every incident in a log book, which is now filled with dozens of anecdotes of car break-ins, noise complaints and reports of people using drugs in the parkade, Zylstra said.
Zylstra said he and other residents have spoken with B.C. Housing staff, but he said their concerns have not been met with any meaningful action.
“They threw a Band-Aid on [the housing crisis], but the wound is still bleeding,” Zylstra said.