I saw this in the newspaper yesterday. It’s an open letter to the Mayor of Victoria, Lisa Helps, from a group of almost fifty residents of Lower Burnside-Gorge. Please note that I didn’t write this and I’m not involved with this group. The letter was published as a paid advertisement in the Times-Colonist:
OPEN LETTER TO THE MAYOR OF VICTORIA
From a collective of 49 Lower Burnside-Gorge Residents
Submitted to the Mayor on June 12th, 2017
Dear Mayor Lisa Helps:
Victoria is growing fast, and with that growth comes homelessness, despair and higher on-the-street drug use. In response, Rock Bay Landing, the Super 8, the facility on Queens, the Tally Ho, et cetera – within the Lower Burnside-Gorge area – have been re-purposed to deal with the homelessness problem. Is it the city’s intent to tacitly agree to have the Lower Burnside-Gorge area serve as a de facto ghetto in order to insulate other neighbourhoods from issues that arise from this homelessness – similar to what has happened in Vancouver with the notorious Downtown Eastside? If not, then now is the time to take action.
With the concentration of facilities to house the homeless building up around the Lower Burnside-Gorge, a ghetto-scenario is being created. Investors are unlikely to choose to invest in this neighbourhood if such a ghetto-scenario occurs. The Douglas Corridor will miss out on condos as envisioned in the new Neighbourhood Plan and the creation of a vibrant core of restaurants, retail and grocery stores will be curtailed.
If the city does not believe that the Lower Burnside-Gorge is becoming the de facto concentration area for homelessness, poverty, open-air drug trade, mental illness, sex work and ultimately, crime, then we ask that the city’s planning department conduct a mapping exercise showing the capacity and location of all facilities being developed to address homelessness. We would like to see the data for ourselves, to determine if an even distribution is being deployed.
BC Housing indicated at a public meeting that they are cognizant of the saturation point of social housing in a community. So we ask: when will the Lower Burnside-Gorge be at this point of saturation? We believe Lower Burnside-Gorge has already reached this point.
The operations of Rock Bay Landing by the Cool Aid Society clearly shows that such social housing, if inadequately managed or used over capacity, overflows onto the streets surrounding the facility causing disruptions and leaving behind garbage and used needles.
The Portland Hotel Society (PHS) has shown that a facility can be managed well and so far the Super 8 has not had the high number of incidents seen elsewhere. That being said, the PHS was announced to the public through the Times Colonist and – without any public consultation, was renovated and occupied. It currently does not have the proper zoning and it is operating in violation of the zoning bylaw. Only after it was well established did the residents get a briefing at a community meeting on its progress. At this meeting the residents asked for regular community meetings to get updates. At the update meeting we heard that BC housing is suggesting that the former liquor store at the Super 8 be turned into a shelter.
BC Housing has now made known to the public through the Times Colonist that the Tally Ho is going to be a housing facility operated by the Cool Aid Society. Cool Aid does not have a very good reputation of managing facilities and if past history is any indication, it is likely that this social housing project will cause problems for neighbours. Many residents have made lifetime investments only to see the city put the drug and homeless problem directly into the centre of the community without consultation or input. Rock Bay Shelter, PHS’s Douglas Community, Cool Aid’s Tally Ho and the Queen Street facility are all within a few blocks of each other and unless proper planning is done, residential streets and back alleys will become travel corridors and injection sites creating a security nightmare for residents.
We need the backend of the Tally-Ho to be blocked off, forcing traffic to enter and exit through Douglas Street. If not the back alley directly across from the Tally Ho will become an ad-hoc injection site for the facility’s resident “guests”… both wanted and unwanted. The fastest point between the Rock Bay Shelter and the Tally Ho will be through the residential community if a barrier is not created behind the Tally Ho. Residents MUST have input into the development of the Tally Ho before any permits are issued and before it is renovated and occupied.
The city’s consultation record for the Lower Burnside-Gorge has been bleak. For example our park was taken to build the Rock Bay Shelter with ‘fait accompli’ consultation.
It is our expectation that the city responds to the questions directly and implicitly stated in this letter, namely:
- What steps is the city taking to stop the Lower Burnside-Gorge area from turning into a de facto ghetto?
- Will the city’s planning department conduct a mapping exercise showing the capacity and location of all facilities being developed to address homelessness within the city and make this data publicly available?
- When will the Lower Burnside-Gorge be at a point of saturation, where the city will stop further social housing developments?
- How is the city addressing overcapacity, garbage and overflow onto the streets surrounding the Rock Bay shelter?
- Why does the city allow a facility to move forward without proper zoning?
- Will the city allow approve another shelter if BC Housing requests to have the former liquor store at the Super 8 turned into a shelter?
- Will the city force the Cool Aid Society to consult with the neighbourhood on how the backend of the Tally-Ho will be designed before the project can move forward?
Residents of the Lower Burnside-Gorge