Victoria report outlines effects of homelessness on downtown businesses
VICTORIA -- A City of Victoria staff report says that homelessness in the region has had tangible impacts on businesses in the downtown area.
While encampments within the boundaries of the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) have been sparse this fall, the homeless situation across the municipality has caused financial hardships to businesses, store owners told city staff.
Municipal staff say that downtown businesses reported a spike in criminal activity since the early days of the pandemic, including break-and-enters and shoplifting. "Much of this is reflected in the crime statistics for downtown," reads the staff report submitted to council on Oct. 30.
Staff add that downtown workers have increasingly reported feeling unsafe while downtown, and that customers have expressed similar views.
"Many businesses had to resort to adding private security to assist staff and protect both their inventory and property, all at a time when revenue was at an all-time low," reads the report.
Issues with homelessness and downtown crime have also affected businesses that cater to out-of-town visitors.
"There are 17 hotels within the DVBA boundaries, some of them reported directly to the DVBA that they had guests arrive, see the encampments and cancel their rooms, or heard about the encampments via the media or online reviews and cancelled their reservations," reads the report.
In September, city council passed an amendment to its camping bylaw that limited where shelters could be set up. The bylaw restricted camping close to schools, within DVBA boundaries and limited the size of an encampment "to avoid high-risk scenarios associated with congested encampments."
As of Oct. 22, city staff say only two temporary shelters have been erected within the downtown core, both of which were later moved. The shelters were both set up in Centennial Square.
Parks where shelters are permitted within DVBA boundaries include Centennial Square, Centennial Park, Ship Point Park, Peter Pollen Waterfront Park and Reeson Park.
While only two shelters were set up within the downtown core between September and October, city staff say homelessness in other regions of the city has affected businesses in downtown Victoria.
"Based on the business feedback received by the DVBA and to city staff and council, it's evident that businesses have been impacted by sheltering within the DVBA boundary," reads the staff report.
Staff say that over the past four years, Victoria has annually spent between $250,000 and $370,000 managing homeless encampments, with funding going towards cleaning, waste removal and security. Similar expenses are expected to reach at least $1 million for 2020, say staff.
Victoria city council is set to discuss the report at a committee of the whole meeting Thursday.