VICTORIA -- Victoria police chief Del Manak says people have been moving to Victoria from across the country in hopes of receiving free shelter and supports promised by the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

While some suggest that unsheltered people moving to Victoria for community supports is untrue, Manak says that his officers regularly hear stories of newcomers looking for help in the city.

“My officers are telling me daily that we’re seeing new people on our streets, faces we have not seen before,” Manak told CTV News in an interview Tuesday.

“We’re having discussions with these individuals and asking them where they’re from, what their needs are, how police can help them and connecting them with social supports that are in the city – and many of them are coming from as far away as Nova Scotia,” he said.

According to the most recent homeless count in Victoria, which took place on March 11, 88 per cent of unsheltered people in the city reported living in the region for at least one year or longer.

Manak maintains that Victoria appears to be a destination for those looking for aid.

“We just talked to a couple who used their CERB money to drive their vehicle from Ontario, came out with their dog, and they’re staying at a motel,” he said.

“Their whole sole purpose of coming to Victoria was because they need a place to live and they heard that if they come to Victoria they’d be offered that opportunity,” he said.

Manak says similar stories are coming from people who migrate to Victoria from northern B.C., northern Vancouver, up island, or out of the province.

“People definitely are here from out of town, out of province, looking for a free place to stay,” he said.

To help manage the homeless crisis in the city, VicPD’s top cop says he’d like to see increased social and mental health supports.

He says that regional homelessness will only be solved through the work of several groups and governments.

“Again, these are complex issues that are not going to be solved just by police,” said Manak.

“We need to have partners… and we need to have a shared vision and a plan that is going to help people who need us the most and who are quite struggling on our streets,” he said.

Manak says that while he believes downtown Victoria is still a safe place to visit, there has been an increase in violent crimes, particularly robberies and weapons calls.

He adds that VicPD is now focused on increasing officer visibility and targeting repeat offenders.

“We’re really trying to identify who our chronic and prolific offenders are,” he said.

“Those that are coming to our community and that want to use violence and carry on a criminal enterprise in Victoria are dealt with accordingly,” he said.

Over the weekend, Victoria was the first community in B.C. to issue a fine related to hosting parties during COVID-19.

Manak says he “welcomes” the ability to issue fines for breaking provincial health orders, though he notes that VicPD’s aim is to educate rather than enforce.

“Our goal is always to (encourage) general compliance, to get people to understand what the impact is of their actions,” he said.

“But if they choose to ignore that and they’re irresponsible then having that tool to write them a ticket is a tool that Victoria police will be using, and others as well,” he said.