Fed up with what it says is increasing crime, open drug dealing and drug use, the Burnside Gorge Community Association is calling for a moratorium on development of shelters and supportive housing within its boundaries.
“The concentration of marginalized and vulnerable populations has put tremendous strain on businesses and residents across the neighbourhood as there are steadily mounting levels of crime, drug dealing, open drug use, and entrenchment of transient encampments in doorways and boulevards,” association chair Avery Stetski writes in a letter sent to the province this month.
In an interview, Stetski said his community is losing young families who can’t put up with the disruption to their lives.
“They’re just fed up and they’re moving away,” he said. “Petty theft is a problem. There are people who have had their cars broken into three or four times. It’s just constant. If there were some sort of patrols, it would ease concerns.”
Stetski notes that Burnside Gorge is home to just seven per cent of Victoria’s population, but 77 per cent of its shelter units and 36 per cent of supportive housing units. A majority of the facilities have been added in the past six years.
Not only is the situation causing problems within Burnside Gorge, but Stetski said the people the facilities are intended to serve do not integrate into the community at large.
He admits that former hotels and motels in the area are natural facilities for supportive family and senior housing, but says B.C. Housing and the city are “dumping the problem people there, not families.”
“We would love to have families here, but they tend to be put in more established neighbourhoods,” he said.
Stetski said that the facilities’ internal operations are generally well run.
“But they have no influence on what happens outside their facility. The sidewalk in front of the facility is public space and if people want to congregate there and do drugs, unless they call the police … there’s nothing they can do about it,” he said. “That’s what the neighbourhood is looking for … some support.”
Coun. Geoff Young, city council’s liaison to the community, said the problems being expressed by Stetski are real. “I can tell you there’s a lot of worried people up there,” said Young, adding those living in the southeast tip of the neighbourhood are feeling particularly hard hit.
That area is home to the Rock Bay Landing shelter operated by the Victoria Cool Aid Society; a former Super 8 Hotel operated by the Portland Housing Society as supportive housing, with plans to open shelter beds; and the former Tally Ho Hotel, which Cool Aid wants to operate as supportive housing.
Young said concerns centre around discarded needles, minor thefts, people using loud and abusive language, discarded garbage and unsightliness.
He added city costs for dealing with Rock Bay Landing are enormous. “I’m told that every morning, essentially, we have to have city staff and city police cleaning up the area across the street from Rock Bay Landing because it’s very typically a place where people camp and stay.”
In his letter, Stetski asks the province to:
• Immediately stop all work and plans to develop a homeless shelter at the former Super 8 Hotel, 2915 Douglas St.
• Establish a moratorium on the purchase or development of shelter and/or supportive housing anywhere within Burnside Gorge to allow for a review of the “critical” situation.
• Hold a meeting with senior ministry officials and the community association to develop strategies to resolve outstanding issues.
Victoria councillors decided Thursday to send a temporary use application for the former Tally Ho Hotel to be used as supportive housing to a public hearing despite the community association’s concerns. Cool Aid applied for a temporary use permit for 53 units of supportive housing at 2030 Douglas St.
As a condition of going to public hearing, councillors directed that Cool Aid attend a Burnside Gorge land-use committee in an attempt to answer questions the neighbourhood might have.