Homelessness costs $1.6 million in 12 months for Victoria taxpayers

Dealing with homelessness has cost Victoria taxpayers more than $1.6 million in the past 12 months, with about $567,000 directly attributable to the tent city, city staff say.

Costs to manage issues relating to the tent city will continue to mount at the rate of about $92,700 a month, says a staff update to go to councillors this week.

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“It’s a lot of money to be spending,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, reached at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention in Winnipeg. She said she suspects the province “has been spending a heck of a lot more than we have.”

“But when there are people homeless — without housing — that’s what it costs. We haven’t said that that’s our desire, and I think it’s an illustration, once again, as if we need another illustration, that it’s actually cheaper to house people than it is to have them on the streets.”

The report says that issues relating to homelessness in the city “are of significant concern.”

“The courthouse encampment itself has been and continues to be a substantial draw on the city’s resources,” it says.

The report notes that the initial impact of the tent city was a reduction in city services as the numbers of people sheltering in parks was reduced and the courthouse encampment grew.

But in recent weeks, circumstances at the tent city have changed, the report says, and city resources have been redirected to the encampment and the area around it.

Expanded services in the neighbourhood immediately surrounding tent city include:

• Parks staff patrolling the neighbourhood daily collecting litter from streets and sidewalks and disposing discarded materials and debris.

• Public works staff are being redirected from other areas of the city to clean streets and sidewalks around tent city.

• Bylaw staff are patrolling the area twice daily, seven days a week. Two additional bylaw officers will be deployed throughout the summer.

The bulk of the city costs are for staff time.

City council recently approved up to $113,000 in additional funding for additional police patrols in the three to five blocks around the tent city.

The Burdett Avenue camp, by the provincial courthouse, is located on property owned by the provincial government.

Since last summer, the province has created 128 new sheltering places at three locations — My Place, Choices and Mount Edwards Court — and continues to look to expand shelter spaces, the report says.

On Friday, B.C. Housing Ministry Rich Coleman said the government plans to buy two more buildings — providing more than 140 units — to house homeless people. Coleman made the announcement as the government filed 69 affidavits in support of a court application to evict the tent city residents. He said the promise of additional housing, combined with worsening fire risks and increased criminal activity at the camp, have strengthened arguments for an injunction.

In April, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson refused a request from the province to issue an injunction ordering the encampment, which began to grow last November, to be dismantled. “I really do think the judge made it very clear that the reason he denied the injunction in April was because these people had no place to go,” Helps said.

“So I think the province really needs to, and I know they are working very hard on this, to provide more housing. And I think that’s the answer to homelessness and I think we’ll hopefully see some action from the province. Because it’s expensive for everyone.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

— With a file from Lindsay Kines

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