Calls to police for service in the Beacon Hill Park area have increased this year compared to this time in 2019, according to Victoria Police.
Disturbance calls are up by 82 per cent while violent crime calls are up by 29 per cent. Overall, there’s been an 18 per cent rise in calls for the area.
“These are significant increases in significant crime categories,” said Bowen Osoko, spokesperson for the Victoria Police Department.
The biggest jump comes in disturbance calls, Osoko explained, which is anything that causes people concern or is out of the ordinary.
“It could be yelling and screaming, it could be a loud interaction. It could also be property kind of being left about, anything that really seems like it’s out of the ordinary,” he said.
This spike in calls comes at a time when homeless campers have moved into Beacon Hill Park. Victoria City Council passed a motion in May allowing overnight camping to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in the homeless population. The motion was revisited on June 25, when council unanimously voted to extend it.
Although police said they can’t link the increase in calls to the camp itself, Osoko said he isn’t surprised by the spike.
“When people encamp in an area, we often see an increase in calls for service,” he explained. “There may be lots of different reasons why that is, but we see an increase in calls for service and we see increase in calls in these types of service.”
Neighbours like Andrew Wierzbicki have reported seeing needles, pipes and sharp objects in the park while out for a walk.
“I’m sure there are probably other people that have experienced this,” Wierzbicki said. “Probably, you know, physical, mental, emotional abuse in the park for something that should be enjoyed by everybody…. I can’t even go to park at 9 a.m. without being told I was going to be killed.”
Osoko said it’s important that people report these kinds of incidents.
“Everyone should be able to walk through Beacon Hill Park and not worry about being threatened,” he said. “If you are, give us a call. We need to hear about it.”
A petition created four weeks ago calling the city to stop allowing the camping has garnered more than 14,500 signatures.
“A common thing uniting everything is a sense of fear and insecurity. People who have signed the petition feel fearful and insecure going into the parks, people living in the parks feel fearful and insecure as well,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, adding that this isn’t just a Victoria problem, but a British Columbia problem.
“It’s a devastating situation for everyone. I wish we could wave a magic wand and give people their park back, I wish we could wave a magic wand and give people housing but there aren’t magic wands to wave so we’ve got to slog through this one person at a time, one housing unit at a time.”
Our Place Society in Victoria said the solution is housing, because right now, there’s nowhere else for those camping in the park to go.
“People are there for a very simple reason… they don’t have homes to go to,” said CEO Julian Daly. “I don’t think any of the folk there are there because they want to be there. Who wants to live in a tent in Beacon Hill Park?”
Daly said if the city gets rid of the park as a space for homeless people to camp, they’ll just pick up their tents and go somewhere else. However, he added, the park can’t be a long-term solution for homelessness in Victoria.