Burnside Gorge community concerned with growing tent city, shelters and crime
VICTORIA -- As a new tent city grows in Cecelia Ravine Park, a Victoria community is speaking up, saying it is shouldering a disproportionate weight when it comes to the homelessness crisis in the city.
In recent days, residents of the Burnside Gorge region have noticed a small gathering of tents in a park just off the Galloping Goose Trail.
Homeless residents have hammered tent pegs into the earth, and nearby community members say their arrival signifies the final straw.
"The majority of our residents aren't saying, ‘Get out,’ they are saying, ‘Help us we are overwhelmed,’" said Michelle Peterson, a homeowner in the Gorge area.
“We are experiencing the impacts,” she said.
The impacts Peterson is referring to include hotels that have been taken over by the province for supportive housing, a tent city and a booming crime wave.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the province has acted quickly to house the most vulnerable populations in Victoria.
A key move the province made to address homelessness was purchasing one hotel on Blanshard Street, as well as taking over several other properties in the Gorge area to use as housing and as a way to offer space to physical distance for people without homes.
Burnside Gorge residents say they understand the need for supportive housing, but are confused as to why all of the facilities needed to be located in one community.
"Our neighbourhood is way overrepresented for carrying the load for all of Victoria,” Peterson told CTV News.
Statistics seem to verify Peterson’s concerns.
In recent days, the Victoria Police Department has said that the Burnside Gorge community has consistently taken over as the epicentre for crime in the entire city.
Police say normally this unwanted title is held by the downtown core.
“In other communities things have stabilized,” said police spokesperson Bowen Osoko, as he discussed crime statistics recorded since the pandemic began.
“But frankly, in the Burnside Gorge area we continue to see a rise in both property and violent crime.”
The Burnside Gorge community association is demanding the provincial government quickly install more support systems to help deal with the newly landed population in the area.
The recently appointed head of Victoria’s Our Place Society says he agrees that more help is needed with this much density.
“There are supports there, but absolutely there could be more,” said Our Place Society CEO Julian Daly.
“Especially in terms of treatment and mental health."
When it comes to the sheer number of new supportive beds however, Julian says that the province was forced to react quickly to a global pandemic. He notes that the B.C. government has said since the beginning that these hotels are a temporary fix.
Still, as Michelle Peterson watches a new tent city grow just blocks from her home, she says there is little solace in saying a better approach could be coming in a year or two, when crime is running rampant right now.