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‘It wears on you’: Langford residents concerned about unhoused people in park

Police have seen a spike in calls about unhoused people at Danbrook Dog Park
West Shore RCMP have seen a spike in the number of calls about the unhoused population at Danbrook Dog Park in Langford. (Justin Samanski-Langille/News Staff)

Residents near the Danbrook Dog Park are calling on the City of Langford to find solutions to a burgeoning unhoused population camping out in the area.

“I live across the street from Danbrook Park, the police are there constantly. If it’s not the police, it’s the ambulance, it’s the fire trucks. It’s getting to the point where I feel safer here (City Hall) than in my own home,” said Langford resident Barbara Prettie during Monday’s (Aug. 21) council meeting.

Prettie said her husband has had to switch off power to outlets on the outside of their home because people in the area would use them to charge their phones and their scooters.

“I should not have to live like that. The police have been fabulous, but why do they have to put up with that too? It’s constant, it wears on you after a while. This has been six months. Something needs to be done with that park, I don’t know what, but they need to be out of there.”

West Shore RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Nancy Saggar said police have seen an increase in calls to the park, as well as an increase in the unhoused population in the West Shore.

“We have seen a steady increase since the beginning of the year. We cannot comment or speculate on what may be contributing to this increase other than it appears to be part of larger social issues.”

She added that while there are not specific numbers the department keeps about interactions with unhoused people, one prominent area is the Danbrook Dog Park off of Massie Drive.

From May to August 10, police have been called, or attended and generated a subsequent investigation, 78 times about people within the park. Calls to the area started in 2019, according to Saggar, and have steadily increased, totalling around 177 as of Wednesday (Aug. 23), according to Saggar.

During discussions of RCMP priorities at Monday’s meeting, several residents said they had safety concerns about the area. Others pointed to the decision to divide the park in October 2020 into half greenspace and half dog park. Others suggested the city pass a bylaw against public drug use like Campbell River did in July.

READ MORE: Campbell River formally passes controversial public drug consumption ban

READ MORE: Langford dog owners launch petition to save off-leash park

“Why don’t – following this meeting with the assistance of the RCMP – you all go Danbrook Park tonight, if you haven’t been there at midnight, and see what it’s like, what these people have to contend with?” asked Mike Morton, gesturing to people who live near the park. “Because they deserve better. We are all Langford residents.”

At least 1,665 people in Greater Victoria were experiencing homelessness on the night of March 7, 2023, according to results released by the Point-in-Time (PiT) survey. That’s up from the 1,523 people counted in March 2020.

Ultimately, Langford voted in favour of asking police to prioritize dealing with mental health, youth mischief, road safety, serious organized crime and drug trafficking, visibility of police, and working with Indigenous communities, with a focus on Indigenous youth.

Those priorities were developed during a community advisory committee meeting in July. Coun. Keith Yacucha, who sits on the committee, said concerns the committee heard from residents near the park during that July meeting “influenced and had a large impact on these priorities.”

“What these residents are going through is quite problematic and we’re seeing this here in Langford and across the entire province and across the entire country,” said Yacucha. “We’re not alone in this and we need to really look at – it might not be anything we have done as a municipality that’s brought us there – but at the end of the day we’re the ones holding the ball. Because we’re the ones holding the ball, we’re the ones who are really compelled to act.”

Yacucha said while the new RCMP priorities may help, the city will have to consider taking further steps.

Speaking to Black Press in February, David Hickman and Patrick Humble, who work at the Salvation Army Connection Point Church & Resource Centre on Goldstream Avenue in Langford, both agreed that while not every community needs a shelter, Langford probably needs one.

Hickman also suggested building more houses would help combat homelessness, while Humble said establishing a storage facility in town for unhoused people to put their carts when they need to would help.

“They want a place where they can leave their buggies during the day with all their worldly possessions so that they can visit family, so they can have visits with their kids, so they can go into a place to get cleaned up to go for a job interview or to get help with a counsellor. But they can’t leave their stuff because as soon as they do, it’s tossed or it’s removed,” said Humble in a previous interview with Black Press Media.

“As a community, we do have to take ownership of the reality that homelessness is part of our community,” said Hickman.

READ MORE: ‘No hope in sight’: West Shore can no longer distance itself from homelessness, say advocates

READ MORE: More than 1,600 identified as homeless in Greater Victoria