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Victoria organization says surprise encampment sweep not routine

Our Place says efforts to help people off the street has been ‘compromised’ after surprise sweep
An encampment on Pandora Avenue was cleaned out by Victoria law enforcement officers, which a local support organization said was a surprise, and may compromise their efforts to get people off the street. (Bailey Seymour/News Staff)

The CEO of a Victoria social organization that provides supports for people experiencing homelessness says its plan to get dozens of people off the street by the end of the year may be in tatters after police and bylaw enforcement cleared out an encampment on Pandora Avenue on Thursday, May 16.

Law enforcement had cordoned off a portion of the block and cleared out tents and peoples belongings from the sidewalk in what Our Place CEO Julian Daly said was the biggest sweep they’ve ever seen in the encampment.

“What happened this morning, and I actually stood and watched it for two hours myself, was not a standard routine operation. We saw more people cleared off Pandora this morning, than we have literally seen for years,” said Daly, who was not informed by the city about the sweep.

He said just yesterday there were about 50 tents along the street of people who receive help and support from Our Place and a number of other support organizations that operate in the area. After the sweep, just three tents remained.

It’s been reported that at a press conference at Victoria City Hall, Mayor Marianne Alto said the sweep was routine.

“Bylaw do come every day to Pandora, a lot more most days and once they’ve left, the vast majority of tents are still there. They tend to ask people to take down tents when they’re blocking the pavement, or safety issues or something like that. And people do. But the vast majority of tents are left standing once they left each day. That was not the case this morning,” he said.

Last week, Our Place announced that they are working to get everyone who was living on Pandora Avenue by using an individualized approach to help find the right treatments and housing for everyone by the end of the year, and they have heard heard prior support from the city about the initiative.

In a recent survey they did with Pandora residents, they found that 95 per cent of people are currently struggling with their mental health, 85 per cent have untreated physical ailments, and 39 per cent are currently interested in accessing treatment programs.

“What this does now is they don’t come back, and most probably won’t. Now we’ve lost contact with those people who were on Pandora, and we knew what it would take to get them off,” he said. “Now our street outreach team, which is only two people, try and reconnect with as many of those as possible, but when people are dispersed over large areas, it’s going to be very difficult to do that. There’ll be many of those people we then lose contact with completely. So I think that’s unfortunate because there was a clear pathway of Pandora for for many of those folks. I think that’s been compromised today.”

-With files from Mark Page

Read More: Victoria’s Our Place commits to helping every person off Pandora by year-end