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Victoria mayor floats ban on homeless camping downtown amid surge in break-ins

Click to play video 'Victoria city council may reconsider 24/7 camping in downtown' Victoria city council may reconsider 24/7 camping in downtown
Victoria city council may reconsider 24/7 camping in downtown – Aug 21, 2020

Victoria’s mayor says she’s considering banning homeless campers from setting up in the city’s core business district.

Victoria bylaws currently allow the homeless to shelter in certain parks, under several restrictions.

The move came as Victoria police reported a surge in property crime in the first seven months of the year, with break-and-enters nearly doubling.

Read more: Victoria businesses say government is ‘potentially ruining’ them by buying their building to house homeless

Weapons and bylaw calls were also up by 50 per cent.

Shoplifting and theft calls were down, but Downtown Victoria Business Association executive director Jeff Bray told Global News Friday he believes those numbers are under-reported by merchants who see no value in calling police when the issue won’t be resolved.

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Bray believes the property crime surge is related to growing homeless encampments, including one right outside city hall in Centennial Square.

“We certainly don’t feel that camping in the middle of your commercial area is an appropriate place. We understand that individuals have challenges, but we’re asking council to look at that, perhaps amend it at least for Centennial Square,” he said.

Click to play video 'Victoria homeless count and new city motion' Victoria homeless count and new city motion
Victoria homeless count and new city motion – Aug 10, 2020

Victoria police say their resources are already stretched thinly, in part because of several growing homeless camps in the area.

Officers will prioritize life-safety incidents, meaning property crime calls often fall to the bottom of the list.

“A lot of our resources right now are deployed to the Burnside Gorge area and Beacon Hill park,” said Const. Cam MacIntyre.

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“We have seen an increase in property crime violent crime, public disturbances, social disorder issues in both of those areas. We’ve actually deployed special duty officers to both of those areas during the week.”

Read more: City of Victoria seeks court order to move homeless people in Beacon Hill Park

In a statement to Global News, Mayor Lisa Helps said she was looking at the possibility of a bylaw change to ban camping in the central business district.

“It has become evident that an encampment int he downtown is not working for anyone,” she said.

Click to play video 'Controversial proposed changes to Victoria homeless camping rules' Controversial proposed changes to Victoria homeless camping rules
Controversial proposed changes to Victoria homeless camping rules – Sep 18, 2017

“The people who are living there are preyed upon by others and some of those others are also causing havoc in the downtown.”

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Helps said such a bylaw change would likely mean moving more people into parks, adding that more housing is the only genuine solution.

Read more: B.C.’s police watchdog investigating 4-hour standoff at Victoria motel-turned-homeless shelter

She said council would revisit the issue when it resumes in September.

In the meantime, Bray said businesses are struggling to hold on.

“Now with COVID, businesses are just trying to survive, their employees are just trying to survive, we really need to get some more enforcement,” he said.

“For businesses, that broken window, that $1,000 deductible, that can make or break a business these days.”

— With files from Brad MacLeod