Victoria council will debate motions on Thursday for additional police resources and engagement with the city’s homeless as multiple encampments that have grown during the pandemic attract controversy.
A motion submitted by Mayor Lisa Helps and Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe calls for a boost of $94,528 in police funding from the city’s emergency Financial Stability Reserve.
The money is based on an estimate for a two-officer special duty patrol around city parks, four hours a day, seven days a week.
Council recently ordered a closure of Centennial Square that forced the eviction of a homeless camp in the area.
The camp was the subject of an undercover investigation from August 11 to 15 that led to the issuing of warrants for 17 people on drug-related charges.
“Having VicPD provide additional assistance in the form of a special duty would provide significant relief to Patrol and the Community Services Division and allow them to focus on their primary duties and projects,” the motion states.
It also refers to another motion brought forward by Councillors Marianne Alto and Sarah Potts regarding engagement with people living in encampments.
The motion from Alto and Potts calls for the hiring of Peer Support Researchers through the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness (GVCEH) for a six-week engagement.
During this engagement, researchers would meet with people in homeless encampments for the purpose of canvassing their views on what factors affect them and informing city staff proposals.
“People with lived and living experience of homelessness are subject matter experts in what the barriers and gaps in systems and services are, and are able to identify what effective solutions are in place,” the motion from Alto and Potts reads.
“They know what they need. Before establishing any new camping or sheltering guidelines, views are needed from campers themselves.”
The motion estimates that the engagement process would cost $40,161.00 in the form of a grant to GVCEH.
Councillor Potts said in a phone call with Victoria Buzz that she wants to see workers and groups like Our Place and Doctors Without Borders unifying and organizing their efforts.
“I think there’s a lot of work going on on the ground right now and it will be good to consolidate them,” said Potts. “Some of this organization is already going on, this is about formalizing it.”
She added that she welcomes discussion on the motion put forward by Helps and Thornton-Joe but is concerned about approaching homelessness exclusively through policing.
“We cannot police homelessness away,” said Potts.
“Not every homeless person is creating crime. There’s people who are just trying to survive out there. There’s ways that we can help and formalize that process.”
Victoria Buzz reached out to Mayor Helps and Councillor Thornton-Joe for comment on this story but did not hear back by press time.