Pubdate: Tue, 16 May 2006
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw


Warmer Weather, Vancouver Migration Cited In Estimated 30-Per-Cent 
Increase In Street Population

The number of homeless people in Victoria's downtown core has jumped 
by as much as 30 per cent in the past few weeks, say police, partly 
because of warm weather but also due to a curious migration of street 
people from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"We do see a little increase when the weather gets warmer, but this 
year I've seen a tremendous increase," said Sgt. Jamie Pearce, 
commanding officer of Victoria's downtown targeted policing unit.

"It is out of the ordinary, to the point where I'm going, 'Holy 
smokes. We're getting more and more people coming here. Where are we 
going to put them, and where are they going to go?' "

Pearce has started arriving at work early so he can dedicate the 
first hour of his shift to simply waking people who sleep in areas 
such as alcoves and on private property, he said.

A count last year by the Victoria Cool Aid Society estimated that 
about 700 people in the region were homeless.

The homelessness issue is not limited to Victoria's downtown. Campers 
are often reported in public parks in neighbouring municipalities 
such as Saanich.

The downtown population has jumped by as much as 30 per cent in 
recent weeks, Pearce estimated. Some of the new arrivals say they 
left Vancouver to avoid an alleged police crackdown on the homeless, he said.

"These are new people we're coming across on a daily basis," said 
Pearce. "And we're getting reports from even our neighbours up in 
Nanaimo saying they're getting an influx from Vancouver as well."

The suggestion drew a quick rebuke from the Vancouver Police Department.

"We don't crack down on homeless people, we crack down on criminals," 
said Const. Howard Chow, a Vancouver Police spokesman. The influx 
could simply be the normal migration of street people due to warm 
weather, he suggested.

But Victoria Police Chief Paul Battershill said it appears more than 
just weather has influenced the change. The sudden spike is 
"curious," he said. However, the department will canvass the street 
population for details, before deciding if more officers should be on 
patrol downtown, he said.

One reason for the increase could be the recent closing of three 
hotels in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, said Battershill.

That area of Vancouver is well known for its large street population, 
and the home of Insite, the first safe injection site in North America.

Vancouver's hotel closings were felt all the way over in Victoria at 
the Our Place walk-in street ministry on Johnson Street, said Rev. Al 
Tysick. Recent visitors have mentioned leaving the Lower Mainland in 
favour of the capital region, he said.

More affordable housing and low-rent accommodation is crucial to deal 
with the problem, he said. "Right now our shelters are completely 
full, which is not normal," said Tysick.

"Usually this time of year, there is a space at either the Salvation 
Army or Streetlink.

"I think there is an increase in the [homeless] population. But the 
bigger question we should pose is what are we going to do about it, 
and how are we going to handle it?"

"It is a crisis situation we can't hide anymore."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman