The family of a man who died while living at a notorious supportive housing facility in downtown Victoria is speaking out about the dire conditions at the building and calling for change.
Jamaal Johnson struggled with addiction. He had sought help in getting clean but found it impossible to do so while living at 844 Johnson Street, a facility initially established to house homeless campers displaced from a tent city that occupied Victoria’s courthouse in 2015.
His wife, Courteney, said even though he didn’t succeed, the man she describes as a “bright light” wanted nothing more than to get out of the building and get off drugs.
“He wanted out. He was done. He was tired. But there was no help for him,” she said. “Like going into treatment, where? Where is he going to go? Like detox, cool for five days, then what?”
Before he succumbed to his addiction, Jamaal recorded a video of himself talking about the condition of the building and how it was an obstacle to his recovery.
“It is impossible. These places are not designed for me to get out of here and out of my struggle,” he says in the video. “It’s not a joke to me. I will be damned if I don’t see a grandchild from my daughter. If I don’t come out of this death-defying building.”
Jamaal made the video as a last plea for help. He died Jan. 10 at 43 years old, still living in the facility.
“Why did he make the video? Because he wanted to put out awareness of what’s going on in these buildings. Because people really don’t know,” Courteney said.
After a series of raids that resulted in the seizure of guns and drugs at 844 Johnson, Victoria Police Chief Const. Del Manak said criminals are setting up shop at supportive housing facilities around the city.
“Most of these locations have criminals that are embedded within these locations that are exploiting people [who] are just trying to have a roof over their heads, and are marginalized and vulnerable. We see that time and time again,” Manak said.
844 Johnson St. is operated by PHS Community Services Society. When contacted by CHEK News, the non-profit said it understands the concerns with the building.
But operators like PHS need help from the province to address those issues, according to CEO Michael Vonn.
“There are intensive needs that we are attempting to address,” Vonn said. “And if we are appropriately resourced in policy and legislation, as well as other kinds of resources, then we can attend to these in ways that people will find very palatable.”
Still, any change that comes will come too late for Jamaal and the family he leaves behind.
“He was funny. He was really funny,” said Courteney, scrolling through photos of her husband. “He used to send me these pictures like every day. He was so handsome.”