It’s usually an open door for the city’s most vulnerable but on Thursday Our Place Society, in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue, took the drastic step of locking its gates due to a rise in violence.
“This was based on some increases we’ve been seeing in levels of violence and aggression and also you know trying to get people to adhere to mask policies,” said Our Place Director of Services Jordan Cooper.
While they continued to offer takeout meals and keep washrooms and showers open, Cooper said the situation inside its drop-in centre was becoming unsafe for staff and other clientele.
“We don’t want that to impede the folks that really need to access the services not coming because they don’t feel safe,” he said.
The Society says it will close just for one day as they try to find a safer way to help people.
“Traditionally we’ve always had folks be able to come in and out pretty freely through our courtyard, and we want to try and put some more controls on that, that we can control who’s coming on-site,” added Cooper.
The increasing violence isn’t just confined to the 900-block of Pandora.
“In the past two days there’s been several acts of violence in and around the place where I’m living at Comfort Inn,” said Jason Chadwick, a peer support worker.
Chadwick says with the overdose crisis and the pandemic people were already on edge, but now with COVID-19 spreading among the street community, it’s hit a crisis that might be causing people to lash out.
“You’re just afraid, you’re scared, scared, angry, tired, hungry right? And I don’t know what the solution is but it is a problem and it’s getting worse,” he said.
Victoria Police say the violence in certain pockets of the city has hit a new level in recent weeks.
“There’s a level of anarchy on the streets and our officers aren’t really feeling safe,” said Chief Del Manak.
Manak notes, however, that it’s not just COVID-19 to blame. He says warehousing vulnerable people in places like former hotels, without supports, has made the situation on the streets worse, not better.
“I can unequivocally tell you that opening up supportive housing units without the supports that are needed and necessary to stabilize and keep the community safe, it’s a disaster,” he said.
Combine that with the COVID-19 currently circulating and he says it’s become incredibly dangerous for his officers, so much so that they are no longer responding to most low priority calls inside those facilities.
“If there’s a high priority call where police are needed, and someone’s personal safety is at risk, Victoria police officers will don the proper PPE equipment and will be responding inside to these locations if and when needed.”
Manak says there’s an urgent need for more on the ground mental health supports and crisis response teams. In the meantime, he warns he’s willing to take whatever steps are necessary to keep his officers safe.