Homeless people living at Centennial Square will be relocated in the coming days.
In an e-mail to CHEK News, the City of Victoria said it has issued an order to close “select areas” of Centennial Square, resulting in those living there to relocate to “other places” by Sept. 1. The order was made on Aug. 28 through a bylaw that allows the closure of parks and open spaces when “hazardous conditions” exist, according to the city.
“We recognize every person has the right to shelter and that COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges faced by vulnerable populations however Centennial Square has become entrenched with a criminal element that demands greater action to protect the public, businesses and those seeking shelter,” the city said in an e-mail statement to CHEK.
Once the relocation is complete, cleaning and remediation including landscape restoration will take place, the city added.
For the campers currently living there, the news hits hard. Keysha Jimmy, who’s been there all through August describes the group as tight-knit.
“Kind of like a family almost, like were together down here, and a lot of us lookout for each other,” said Jimmy.
She says she was previously living at Beacon Hill Park, but she fears going back.
“I couldn’t even leave my tent sometimes every day and I would get stuck there. you know it’s hard for me just to leave or get somebody to watch it or a friend and I can’t even trust it cause a lot of them will just take my stuff and belongings,” added Jimmy.
Dozens of tents are set up at Centennial Square, which is located beside Victoria’s city hall. The public space has, in recent weeks, attracted negative attention following a spike in criminal activity, such as the shooting of City Hall windows with a compressed air gun, multiple assaults, and two stabbings on Aug. 10.
Centennial Square was also the site of a drug-trafficking operation, according to Victoria Police Department. At least 17 people are facing a total of 18 drug trafficking charges following an undercover investigation conducted by VicPD at Centennial Square.
Between Aug. 11-15, the department said undercover officers posed as customers and purchased drugs including methamphetamine, cocaine, psilocybin and fentanyl from tents located in Centennial Square and learned that several tents were primarily used for drug trafficking on a rotating basis.
“A lot of us have our alcohol and addiction, but some of us are really hurting emotionally, you know because we don’t know how to take the situation and the struggle.” Said Jimmy.
Following VicPD’s announcement of the arrests, Mayor Lisa Helps promised to take “rapid action” on Centennial Square.