Victoria’s mayor is calling for calm amid rising tensions surrounding the city’s homeless encampments.
On Tuesday, a man at the Beacon Hill Park encampment was arrested after allegedly taking a sledgehammer to a City of Victoria parks staff vehicle.
Wednesday morning, the city awoke to a wave of graffiti, including expletive-laden messages targeting bylaw staff written on the Victoria bylaw offices.
Less profane messages included “stop lying,” “defend Beacon Hill” and “support your city.”
A statue of Queen Elizabeth II was also decapitated.
“Our bylaw staff are doing an incredible job under really difficult circumstances,” Mayor Lisa Helps told reporters, Wednesday.
“They need to enforce the bylaws because that’s their job, and its really unfortunate to see this targeted graffiti.”
Victoria, like cities across Canada, is grappling with a homeless situation that’s been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak went to council seeking to extend funding for police officers who escort bylaw officers in city parks with homeless encampments, warning of an escalation of violence.
“It’s not everyone in the park who is behaving this way. We have lots of people who are truly, truly experiencing homelessness and they’re just looking for safety, they’re looking for shelter, and they’re looking for a better quality of life,” Manak said Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, there are those embedded in many of these encampments who are criminals, who resort to violence, they use weapons.”
Victoria is working with the provincial government and BC Housing on a plan to see the city’s homeless housed by March 31.
Helps sought to assure the people that city parks remain safe, adding that the recent incidents were directed at the city, not the public.
Once the homeless are sheltered, she believes, tensions should decrease.
“But in the meantime, I would really ask everyone to remain calm and for people who are unhappy with bylaw or unhappy with the city to just come talk to us,” Helps said.
Victoria’s downtown business community is hoping for action before the end of March.
Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said his members, already facing major pandemic challenges, are struggling amid increased crime and vandalism.
“For business owners that are just hanging on, for their employees who are hoping to just have another shift, this is the type of stuff that is really demoralizing,” Bray said.
Bray wants more resources from the city for struggling businesses, as well as for Victoria police.
Helps has proposed a fund to help the local businesses who are targeted by vandals.
Victoria police are appealing for any security or dashcam video that may have captured the vandals behind the wave of graffiti.