Province orders Topaz and Pandora homeless camps dismantled
VICTORIA -- The homeless encampments at Topaz Park and along Pandora Avenue in Victoria will be dismantled starting immediately, in a process that's expected to take two weeks.
The B.C. government issued the order on Saturday under the Emergency Program Act. It also includes efforts in Vancouver and, to a smaller scale, the rest of the province.
Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said this is a public safety order, not a health order.
“We know there will be big challenges ahead,” said Farnworth. “We know this needs to be done carefully, the right way, with wraparound health and social supports.”
In Victoria, BC Housing will start the process of assessing people at Topaz and Pandora and moving them into five hotels where the province has secured 324 spaces. The province did not say which hotels or motels in Victoria are being used, but it did say the rooms were rented with lease agreements.
Victoria’s Mayor Lisa Helps is thanking the province for the decision.
“I want to say thank you to the province,” said Helps. “I’ve been saying this for probably close to five weeks now that indoor solutions are important so that people who don’t have homes can follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders.”
The hotels will be set-up with 24/7 staff from non-profit housing providers. They'll get medical supports including mental health and addiction support. Prior to moving, each individual will be assessed by outreach workers and Island Health to match them with the site that best meets their social and health needs.
It won't be done right away, with an expectation that 20 or 30 people per day will be assessed and moved into the hotel rooms.
A woman who lives near Pandora Avenue and has been a vocal critic of the city’s handling of the homeless camp said the plan the province announced Saturday is a good step, but she’s still upset about the crime that has already happened.
“This does not absolve you, mayor or city council, for taking accountability for what measures are being put in place for crime and crime-prevention and the safety of residents in this community who are experiencing violent assaults, attacks, home invasions,” said Jennifer Hutter. “This shouldn’t be a level of acceptability and normal.”
The province says the plan is "a step toward providing permanent housing for people in these encampments."
Beyond Victoria, the province says 686 people in Vancouver will be cleared out of that city's homeless encampments. There are a smaller number of operations scattered around the province. For instance, the SEAPARK recreation centre in Sooke will house 45 people.
The province said it would like to have both Victoria encampments cleared out by May 9.
With files from CFAX 1070's Ryan Price