Thursday, June 20, 2024

“Changing Street Behaviour” – Business Representatives Address City Council


On Thursday, April 14, three prominent members of the business community addressed City Council over rapidly deteriorating conditions, particularly in the area of safety, in the Fort Street area, as well as general vicinity of Tent City.

Fort Street business owner, and Fort Street Business Association co-chair Teri Hustins; Downtown Victoria Business Association chair and Fort Street Business Association co-chair, Suzanne Bradbury; and CEO of Tourism Victoria, Paul Nursey, were allowed 5 minutes each, to address Council.

Teri Hustins shared her recent experiences as a business owner on Fort St. which “demonstrate a changing street behaviour” in the area. She notes that staff who work weekends are young, high school and college students, and she recounted the following incidents over a three-day period, spanning the weekend from April 2nd – April 4th:

  • On Saturday, a young man entered her store and attempted to steal some items, when this proved unsuccessful, he proceeded to sit down on the floor and refused to leave.
  • On Sunday, another young man entered the store, and began placing a rubber band on his arm, “as if he’s going to start to shoot up.” Security had to be called to have the man removed.
  • On Monday morning, Hustins arrived to find a woman lying on her back in the alcove of a neighbouring store, “her feet were in the street, her skirt was pulled up to her waist, and she had vomit around her,” paramedics were called.
  • That same Monday evening, as she went to lock up her store, an aggressive panhandler outside forced her to again call security.

“Never in my 25 years of retailing have I had a week quite like last week,” Hustins adds.

Although she normally recognizes many of the downtown homeless, Hustins emphasizes that, “some of these faces that I am seeing downtown recently, and some of these people, are not people that I have seen before.”

According to Hustins, a fellow business owner on Upper Fort, was forced to cancel her evening workshops recently, as most of her clientele are women, and there was concern over their safety walking back to their cars after 10pm. VicPD’s liaison officer has been asked to assist the business owner, so they can find a way to allow the workshops to proceed.

Suzanne Bradbury, chair of the DVBA spoke of the need to, “collectively figure out how to achieve a healthy balance between compassion, support and boundaries, such that the well-being of all members of our community can be assured.”

Bradbury reported an increase over the last few months in the number of marginalized people on downtown streets, “who operate in a manner that does not conform to the bylaws of our community.” 

“It is also worth noting that there are many new faces,” Bradbury told Council. Like Hustins, Bradbury detailed accounts from a part of Fort St. over the past couple of weeks:

  • On two separate occasions, lone female staff members from local restaurants, “were followed and harassed walking home after their shifts, by men who emerged from the direction of the Tent City.”
  • Police have been called into a Fort St. store on two occasions to support the female staff  who were, “being harassed in their stores by mentally unstable male individuals.”
  • A male line cook, “was chased down the street by a group of men who came directly out of Tent City.”
  • Generally there has been an increase in the amount of garbage clean up required in the area, and an increase in the number of discarded used hypodermic needles.

Tourism Victoria’s CEO, Paul Nursey, explained that, “Tourism Victoria only gets involved in issues when we feel we must,” and thus reluctantly had to let Council know that some “serious issues” were emerging.

According to Nursey, hotels and B&Bs, particularity boutique hotels and inns, are seeing problems such as homeless people wandering on their property or coming inside lobbies, “and generally creating difficulties and scenes with paying customers and staff.” 

The Hotel Association of Greater Victoria is reporting an approximately 500% increase in security costs among their members.

All three speakers emphasized their great reluctance to speak to these issues, which are already proving divisive in Victoria, but felt it was necessary in order to stimulate conversation and find solutions that involve all those who share the downtown area.

View the video here. Clip begins at 1:22:24

Although Mayor Helps asked that no clapping or cheering follow any presentation, earlier in the day, Stephen Hammond, local resident and founder of the group Mad As Hell, received a standing ovation and applause from the crowd, after he recounted experiences residents and workers faced in the vicinity of Tent City and called for 24 hour police protection in the area.

View the video here. Clip begins at 32:33

The same day, the Province announced plans to involve the non-profit Portland Hotel Society, which services Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, to manage Tent City. “I’m pleased that, in response to the City of Victoria and our public, the Province has engaged a service provider to manage the tenting area, including addressing the health-and-safety concerns. We thank the Province for their leadership and look forward to playing a supporting role,” Lisa Helps said in a statement.

Read More: Province Changes Focus to Safety Requirements for Tent City site

Jitka Z
Meeting people from all walks of life and sharing their stories is my passion!

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