Victoria Police Chief Del Manak is asking the city for more than $50,000 in special funding for policing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He says the encampments at Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue – where hundreds who once frequented shelters in the area pre-pandemic now live – require more patrol officers to keep people both inside and outside the camps safe.
“There are no easy solutions to this,” Manak told Black Press Media. “I think everyone is committed to doing their best to help the most vulnerable and marginalized people.”
Since March 5, the police department has reported a more than 100 per cent increase in calls for service near Topaz Park, and a 22 per cent increase in calls for service overall.
“There’s been a severe and serious escalation of crime in the neighbourhood,” Manak said. “Overall there’s been a substantial increase, primarily in property crime, suspicious persons, bike thefts, thefts from automobiles…anything that isn’t locked or bolted down has pretty much been stolen.”
Last week, Rabbi Meir Kaplan of the Chabad Jewish Centre, which serves the community near Topaz Park, said security cameras have recorded numerous burglary attempts, property thefts and break-ins since the camp opened.
“These are real concerns for people who feel unsafe in their neighbourhood, unsafe in their home because we’re getting lots of people going through yards looking for stuff to steal, peering into windows and doors,” Manak said.
Manak also acknowledged the risk of generalizing those in the camps, saying there are many within the homeless community who are at risk themselves. Many, he said, have taken to arming themselves with weapons to stay safe – something that raises even more concerns for police.
Victoria City Council, which has cut several projects to save money during the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, will hear Manak’s request for $52,500 in special funding the morning of April 23.
“I’m hopeful council will recognize there is a serious need for police to step up their efforts to increase visibility and prevent crime and keep everybody safe,” Manak said.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, with the support of council, made a request to the province to secure indoor shelter options, such as hotels and motels in the city.
That request came after Island Health gave a directive that the city’s homeless population be moved to an indoor sheltering model.
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