Growing number of people sheltering on Pandora Avenue worries outreach workers

Growing number of people sheltering on Pandora Avenue worries outreach workers

If you’re seeing more people sheltering along the 900-block of Pandora Avenue in Victoria, you’re not alone.

“I’ve noticed very recently a lot of new faces from out of town, from other provinces,” said Katherine Francis, one of Victoria’s two Pandora Avenue Caretakers, a pilot project run by SOLID Outreach and the City of Victoria, with funding from a Union of B.C. Municipalities grant.

“Unfortunately, I’m also seeing a lot of youth coming on the block, which just devastates me as a parent,” she said.

The Pandora Avenue Caretakers are out on the street daily, acting as a connector, bridging the gap between bylaw and police and the street community, while also linking unhoused people with resources they may not know about. Their program was set to end in July, but has been extended until the end of the year by the City of Victoria.

Francis says a swell in the unhoused population is typical in the summer, but is concerned the current congestion may lead to increased tension.

“The congestion that’s down here is starting to become a little overwhelming for everyone,” said Francis. “When you’re stuck just feet from your neighbour, sometimes those relationships don’t work. And for sanitary reasons, there’s no toilet down here open 24 hours.”

Richard Fahl, who has the gardening contract for the McDonalds on the block, says the lack of a 24-hour washroom is a constant headache he’s cleaning up after.

“The biggest issue we have people are the lack of 24-hour washrooms. When you go through the drive [thru] there’s a corner and they go there to urinate, they do other stuff,” said Fahl, whose had to try to install plants and rocks as deterrents.

As the washroom issues continue, the tents are piling up. Francis is not only concerned about the current overcrowding, but also for the winter months ahead.

“Once the rain starts, the cold weather. I’ve seen it, it’s devastating,” she said.

Francis says many of those new faces coming from out of province are coming to Pandora Avenue instead of city parks due to increasing conflicts with bylaw and city council’s sheltering in parks policies flip-flopping.

“There’s no place else to go,” said Francis.

And based on the services offered on 900-Pandora, known as “the block,” Francis says it only makes sense for those who are unhoused, struggling with addiction and mental health issues, to choose to live there.

“It’s central. It’s really hard for people to travel and this is a very safe place for them when we provide an area for mental health,” she said. “We’ve got a drop in counselling services through Island Health, we have one injections, one safe consumption site for the public to use. We have food from Our Place serving two hot meals a day plus oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, we’ve got pharmacies, then on the corner we have the Ministry of Social Services, so it only makes sense for people to congregate here.”

On Thursday, the Capital Regional District and community partners  released the latest count of homeless people. The count found 1,665 people were homeless across Greater Victoria on March 7, with 765 people participating in the survey.

This year’s total was higher than the 1,523 people that were determined to be homeless in Greater Victoria in March 2020.

It’s a snapshot in time that doesn’t account for seasonal ebbs and flows like what Victoria is currently experiencing along Pandora Avenue.

Francis suggests a “tiny town” replica, similar to what was built during the pandemic in North Park, built near the resources offered on Pandora Avenue would be helpful in easing tensions while waiting for housing to come online.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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