Neighbours report more disruptions after homeless campers move into hotel

Residents of a Gorge Road condo building say they are afraid for their safety and have seen a spike in social disorder since former residents of Topaz Park moved into a neighbouring hotel.

Victoria police have been called to Treelane Estates at 103 Gorge Rd. East several times this month after people were spotted trespassing on the property or looking into car windows, said Matt Pavlic, president of the strata association.

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The twin, eight-storey condo buildings with 140 residents are on a panhandle between the Gorge waterway and the Travelodge at 123 Gorge Rd. East, one of the hotels leased by the province to provide emergency housing for homeless people who were camping at Topaz Park or along Pandora Avenue.

Many of the seniors who live in the condo units have to pass through a laneway adjacent to the Travelodge to get to the bus stop on Gorge Road East and some have reported being yelled at or harassed, Pavlic said. The 28-year-old dentist said he was yelled at by a man who said he was going to kill him and his friends.

“To put a senior citizen or someone with disabilities, to put those people who are already vulnerable in this even more vulnerable position, doesn’t seem fair,” he said. Pavlic said he has been finding needles and beer cans strewn about the property.

Carol Judd, a 78-year-old resident of the building, said she is concerned about break-ins.

Condo owners were to vote Wednesday on whether the strata should spend $200,000 to install a gate and improved fencing around the building to prevent trespassing. Judd said she doesn’t feel seniors on a fixed income should have to pay for added security because the province housed people in a “panic” without consulting the community.

B.C. Housing secured rooms at several hotels after Solicitor General Mike Farnworth ordered that camps at Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue be evacuated. The order was aimed at protecting that population from overlapping health emergencies: the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing overdose crisis.

A total of 344 people have moved into indoor accommodation, B.C. Housing said Tuesday.

The sites include the Travelodge, managed by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, and the Howard Johnson at 310 Gorge Rd. East, along with the Comfort Inn and Suites on Blanshard Street, which the province bought for $18.5 million. All three hotels are in the Burnside Gorge area.

The government housing agency said all housing sites are staffed around the clock and residents have access to addiction and mental health referrals. Daily meals are provided and Island Health assists with primary-care needs.

“On-site staff are also monitoring who goes in and out of the building,” a B.C. Housing spokesperson said in a statement.

Elizabeth Cull, a director with the Burnside Gorge Community Association, said she was concerned that B.C. Housing is breaking its 2018 moratorium on permanent supportive housing facilities in that area. However, in a recent meeting with Burnside Gorge Community Association board members, B.C. Housing told them the hotel rooms were procured on a temporary basis to respond to the emergency, Cull said. The housing agency told the association its committed to the moratorium and will look for permanent housing outside of the community.

“Burnside Gorge feels like it has more than its fair share of supportive housing and the board has made that point to B.C. Housing over many months,” Cull said, adding: “We want to see the homeless people housed, but we want our neighbourhood to be protected as well. We want to have both.”

Kathy Stinson, executive director of the Victoria Cool Aid Society, said she understands neighbours’ concerns that the area is heavily populated with supportive housing facilities. Other facilities in the area include the Rock Bay Landing shelter, the former Tally Ho hotel at 3020 Douglas St., and the former Super 8 hotel at 2915 Douglas St.

“I think it is a challenge that so many of the sites that B.C. Housing was able to access in response to the pandemic were in that neighbourhood just by nature of the hotels and motels being available,” Stinson said. “I think B.C. Housing was looking at where they could shelter people indoors during the pandemic so they had to go with what’s available in the community.”

B.C. Housing said it has formed a community advisory committee for the Comfort Inn. Similar committees will be set up for other hotels.

“As with all new supportive housing buildings, it takes some time for residents to settle into the building and get used to sleeping indoors again. It is our experience that after a few months, residents stabilize and public disturbances decrease dramatically,” the B.C. Housing spokesperson said. Anyone with neighbourhood concerns can email communityrelations @bchousing.org.

Pavlic has invited municipal politicians to come to Treelane Estates to witness first-hand what residents are going through.

“I think, unfortunately, a lot of burden has been placed on this community without the resources to back it up,” he said. “It seems like the resources allocated to Topaz Park will not be coming to Burnside Gorge. It seems like we’re on our own.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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