Victoria mayor says ‘traumatic’ take down of tents on Pandora Ave not unusual

Victoria mayor says ‘traumatic’ take down of tents on Pandora Ave not unusual

An early morning sweep along Pandora Avenue took campers and staff members at Our Place by surprise on Thursday, but the city says it was all work that it regularly conducts.

City of Victoria bylaw officers, accompanied by Victoria police, took down tents and were gathering belongings from homeless people in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue.

The move came unannounced, according to Jordan Cooper, director of services at Our Place Society.

“Living here on Pandora, bylaw has been a part of their lives, having to take down their tents and get their belongings together, but they haven’t been required to actually vacate – and today that was the case,” said Cooper.

“People were being told they needed to pack up and move their belongings off Pandora.”

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto says the work carried out on Thursday was not unusual or out of the ordinary for city staff.

She says bylaw officers were there to make sure this section of road was clear of campers, saying that there’s an expectation that people remove their tents during the day, as they would if they were sheltering in a park.

“They’re (bylaw staff) doing their usual excellent work and picking up trash and bringing in a little bit of order and working with the folks who are there, as they do every day,” she said.

She said staff usually clear up small sections of the block daily, but have been unable to attend for several days in a row. That’s why Thursday’s sweep was larger than usual.

Still, staff at Our Place say the move came as a surprise.

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Police and bylaw officials are pictured along Pandora Avenue on May 16, 2024.

Overnight sheltering on Pandora

Cooper said he wishes there was more communication from the city ahead of time so that groups like Our Place could help support a transition, “because it’s difficult and it’s traumatic.”

Alto said she was unable to speak for other organizations, but said that “if it is a surprise, I’m a bit surprised, because our staff are out there almost daily.”

Cooper says campers who have had their belongings seized have turned to him asking what to do next.

“We’re not really sure what the plan is here, we’ve talked to folks here and certainly to each person that they’re hoping to get into some kind of housing,” he said.

Alto said while the boulevard in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue is not an area where camping is permitted at any time, the city recognizes that unhoused people are still going to gather there.

She says she expects some campers to return to the spot Thursday night, but the expectation will still be that they pack up their belongings in the morning, as they would in an area where overnight sheltering is permitted.

“I need to stress that this is the usual work that our staff do in trying to make sure that the multiple uses that are being pressed onto this block [such as for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians] are being able to be done by everyone that needs to be there,” said Alto.

Thursday morning’s sweep came just a week after Our Place and the Housing Justice Project called for more support for unhoused people, with Our Place saying it hoped to get the roughly 77 people living along Pandora Avenue into a home by the end of the year.

‘Wouldn’t let us take anything’

One camper who spoke with CHEK News on Thursday morning said bylaw officials quickly cut down his tent and took his belongings, including ones he planned to remove from Pandora Avenue.

“Our stuff was all in wagons and ready to go, then they came and dumped them out, destroyed our stuff, they’re now about to fill these dump trucks with all our stuff that they decide is garbage,” he said. “It has all our food, our medication, our money, they wouldn’t let us take anything.”

He added that he and his wife needed to ask for help from staffers at the SOLID Outreach Society to convince bylaw officers to return their seized cellphones.

Alto said she was unable to speak on other people’s accounts of what happened.

(CHEK News)

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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