Lately, there’s been a lot of media focus on the street level issues impacting the 900 block of Pandora. Residents, businesses, and those that rely on the services housed on that block feel under siege. There’s a feeling that the street issues on Pandora are affecting the people who live and work in the area in a negative way.
To say that these issues don’t have an impact, or to pretend that these don’t exist, does an injustice to our downtown Victoria community. Harm reduction must involve the entire community, not just the clients.
The services provided by agencies are vital, save lives, and are desperately needed downtown. To say otherwise does an injustice to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. We can not police our way out of these problems, and surely no one is advocating that people who are clearly in distress should end up in worse situations.
The services are necessary, and they are impacting the neighbourhood. As a member of the steering committee for the Coalition to End Homelessness, I believe there are both short-term actions and long-term solutions that can be supported and acted on by all concerned.
Together, we must first identify behaviours and actions that everyone agrees are not acceptable. Be that open drug use, open drug selling, setting up tents and other structures, or excessive loitering. Whatever those identified, unwanted behaviours are – that is where we start.
Social service agencies need to a) have additional funding to b) accept responsibility to manage the impacts in the area surrounding their operations. Police and bylaw officers must be allowed the deal with the identified, unwanted behaviours and actions. Clients can be asked to be more respectful of their surrounding environment, and residents can work to be more patient as things change, and ultimately improve.
Long-term, as new forms of supportive housing, second stage housing, and other housing options are built throughout the region, additional supports and strategies will be needed to ensure client placements are successful. If clients identify actions that will make them feel safer, then that will likely make everyone feel safer. Creating support service hubs throughout Greater Victoria will eliminate the need for much of the current street level population from having to travel downtown daily.
Having honest conversations does not mean making someone wrong, it means we can hear each perspective, and begin to build a small space for consensus. Collectively, we will then need to advance that consensus. It is also imperative for statutory decision makers to support that consensus through concrete actions. Working together we have created a safe and welcoming downtown, and now we must focus on Pandora.
Jeff Bray is the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.