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Comment: Fences are the answer to tent-city disruption

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told the Times Colonist: “I personally don’t think fences are the answer.” I couldn’t disagree with her more.
photo - downtown Victoria fence on Pandora Avenue

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told the Times Colonist: “I personally don’t think fences are the answer.” I couldn’t disagree with her more. While she waits for the province to come riding in on a white horse to save the day, we have no choice but to take action, including erecting fences.

Politicians such as Helps talking about a “bigger picture” and a “balanced perspective” won’t deter drug dealers and sex trade activity disrupting the neighbourhood.

That kind of talk won’t pick up the human feces and help retailers hose down urine from their doorways. It won’t make long-time residents feel safe about walking home at night and it definitely won’t make parents feel comfortable letting their kids go to school or to piano lessons across the street from a “no barrier” facility that takes no responsibility for its tenants once they step off their (taxpayer funded) property.

In the past couple of months, I’ve read in the TC how some social-service charities have seen a drop in their donations. Sadly, I’m one of those who shifted my giving out of sheer frustration. Of the many charities who receive monthly donations from my partner and me, we cut off three of them when last year we read your headline that 16 Victoria social service agencies said to “keep tent city where it is.”

Yes, they added, “until something better comes along,” but for those neighbours and businesses, who on a daily basis were terrified to walk around their neighbourhood, that was the final straw.

It’s still hard for many Victorians to believe, but my neighbours were assaulted, robbed, harassed, intimidated and/or threatened every single day that tent city stayed there. And then there was the daily activity of cleaning up the human waste and dangerous needles.

When people were singing the praises of the wonderful community these people created, everything that wasn’t nailed down in our neighbourhood was stolen. Every time the police asked if anyone in tent city witnessed any of these crimes, this tight-knit community amazingly saw nothing.

So when “families first” Premier Christy Clark and Housing Minister Rich Coleman were caught with their pants around their ankles for 15 years of gutting social services and for literally creating that tent city when Victoria’s deputy police chief said “don’t do it,” they took a knee-jerk reaction that is having, and will continue to have, repercussions for years.

And when Helps bestowed an award on the former residents of tent city for creating lasting housing, that was too much for law-abiding, taxpaying citizens who work hard to fund these disasters.

Of course we want housing for the homeless. But putting large numbers of the hardest to house, many with massive addictions and mental-health issues in residential neighbourhoods, with virtually no support to get them help or off their addictions, sorry —we’re not jumping for joy.

If Clark truly cared about all communities, including the most vulnerable and those who pay for the most vulnerable, she wouldn’t take the cheapest route possible, disrupting communities.

There should be no ghettos with large numbers of the hardest to house in one facility. We’ve seen how this works in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and we don’t want it. As we’ve seen in Victoria, these new facilities create a bubble zone of drug use and dangerous illegal activity that threatens residential neighbourhoods, schools and non-profit agencies catering to young families.

If all emergency responders are being fitted with special gloves to prevent fatal contact with deadly opioids, why are we allowing the concentration of such activities around children? Turn Mount Edwards Court into low-cost housing, not no-barrier housing across from an elementary school.

And, right now, the province has to stop its “once they’re off our property, it’s none of our business” approach. Appropriate money must be allocated for real security and real deterrence to stop these illegal bubble zones, and the businesses and residents should not have to pay for it.

Clark is throwing money with wild abandon, amazingly just months before a provincial election: How about coughing up for real, lasting support, to help all communities?

Until then, despite what Helps believes, fences are the answer.


Stephen Hammond is the spokesman for Mad as Hell Victoria.