During her daily briefing on Monday afternoon, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps responded to allegations of rising crime rates in the area surrounding Topaz Park.
After the closure of multiple homeless shelters in Victoria led to the displacement of vulnerable populations, many set up camps along Pandora Avenue.
To address the possibility of COVID-19 transmission due to lack of hygiene facilities and proper distancing measures, the City of Victoria decided to allow homeless populations to set up camp in Topaz Park.
From the outset of this measure, Mayor Helps has stated that the allowing an encampment Topaz Park is a stopgap measure until BC Housing and provincial authorities can find enough indoor shelter spaces for everyone who needs housing.
However over the past few weeks, VicPD have detected a spike in crime in the area around Topaz Park, with some blaming Victoria city council for the increase.
To this, Mayor Helps responded that while she is concerned about the level of crime in the area, it’s not productive to point fingers.
“We’re taking all the steps that we can but I think finger pointing is no good and the way that we’re gonna get through this is keeping the pressure on me, on council, and on the province,” said Helps.
She added that the increase in property crime can be attributed to the concentration of over 200 people facing specific health, mental health, and poverty challenges.
This is not because poor people commit crime, says Helps, but because of the effects of an increase in prices of drugs during the pandemic in a group of people suffering from addictions, whose needs are not being properly met at the moment.
“In the end what I’m convinced of is that everybody that’s working on this wants to do the right thing which is, in a public health emergency, to have nobody living outside.”
Another allegation was sent to Mayor Helps by Rabbi Meir Kaplan of the Chabad Jewish Centre located across from Topaz Park who argued that the City of Victoria wanted to set up a homeless camp at the park five years ago and is now using this pandemic to push that agenda through.
Helps responded by calling this view “extremely cynical” and “preposterous”, reiterating that Topaz Park is meant to be temporary until resources can be found to move unsheltered people indoors.
Last week, the city sent a letter to the provincial government asking them to exercise their emergency powers to find indoor accommodations by requisitioning hotels, motels, and other indoor facilities for the purposes of housing homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These units would then be provided to homeless people who are do not display symptoms of COVID-19 but are at risk of contracting and/or transmitting the virus.
No response has been provided by the province as of Monday afternoon.
During the Ministry of Health’s daily briefing on Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed that the province is working on a coordinated plan that provides housing for those who need it, and also offer strategies to support people dealing with both the opioid overdose and COVID-19 crises.
With files from Seanna Wainman