A busy downtown Victoria convenience store is using water to deter would-be loiterers — a tactic that some advocates are calling degrading and dangerous for some of the city’s most vulnerable people.
The 7-Eleven on Quadra and Yates streets has installed a drip line underneath the building’s eavestrough. The line occasionally kicks into action and slowly drips water onto anyone loitering or causing a disturbance along the convenience store’s sidewalk and in the parking lot.
One neighbouring business says so far, it’s been working.
“It’s relatively effective. It’s a little wasteful on water, but it’s not invasive. It’s not disruptive. It’s a good deterrent,” said Austin Abbey of DTI Computers, a sales and repair store located next door.
“It’s useful. It doesn’t extend to our area, just yet. But it’s fairly useful, I’d say.”
But Grant McKenzie from Our Place, a social service provider, says the dripping water is displacing those with nowhere to go and amplifies the need to get people indoors.
“You’re basically moving vagrancy around from spot to spot. If you say not on my stoop, you’re moving them to the next stoop,” said McKenzie.
“I think as long as there have been corner stores, there’s been loitering. It’s nothing new. I think that every business needs to look at what attracts and detracts customers, so this is another method.”
McKenzie says the line is putting vulnerable people in a bad situation, “especially because (they’re) probably huddling against the walls here to get dry and they’re getting wet.”
Just last week, the windows at DTI Computers were smashed, leading Abbey to hope the drip line also deters crime.
“I was talking with a customer at the time, and behind me, I just heard the glass shatter and kind of explode,” he recalled.
A post on Reddit about the line drew hundreds of comments Monday. Some commenters defended the drip line, saying the Quadra and Yates store in particular has had to deal with open drug use and other problems caused by loiterers.
“They don’t turn it on all the time, and if you see the crowds there hanging out and dealing and leaving a pile of garbage you’d sympathize with the store,” one person wrote. “Hard to measure drugs when you’re being sprayed by water…something had to be done about it, as it was the poor staff who had to go out and clean it all up.”
Others like Together Against Poverty’s executive director Emily Rogers say it’s wrong and targets the homeless — a growing population amid a “lack of housing and the rising cost of living.”
A total of 1,523 people in Victoria were experiencing homelessness in 2020, a year before the local apartment vacancy rate sat at just one per cent, according to the B.C. Housing Hub.
Rogers says it’s the first time she’s ever heard of water being used as a deterrent and hopes it’s the last, noting “annoying noises” are a more common mechanism.
“I know how dangerous it is to get wet if you don’t have somewhere to dry off. And it can be very detrimental to people’s feet and hands and body to be wet for a period of time,” added Rogers.
“We know that being wet when living outside can be incredibly dangerous, so intentionally inflicting this upon someone is unethical and inhumane in my perspective.”
CHEK News reached out to 7-Eleven but has yet to hear back.