The entrance to an area of Topaz Park, across from the Chabad Centre, where the City of Victoria allows homeless to camp amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Rabbi calls on Victoria to close Topaz Park homeless camp

Victoria mayor continues to look for ways to get everyone indoors

One religious leader in Victoria said the homeless camp in Topaz Park is creating more crime and fear for residents in the area and the neighbouring Jewish centre.

Rabbi Meir Kaplan of the Chabad Jewish Centre, which serves the community with programs including a licensed daycare, said security cameras have recorded numerous burglary attempts, property thefts and car break-ins since the camp opened. Police departments in Victoria and nearby Saanich have reported significant increases in calls for service in the area.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she shares the concerns of police and the rabbi.

READ ALSO: Victoria police reports 126 per cent increase in calls near Topaz Park

“I’m very concerned. It is not a good situation to have more than 200 people with very high health needs and mental health needs … concentrated in one place,” Helps said in response during her daily update at city hall on Monday, April 20.

She continues to call for ways to get people out of the park and indoors.

She reiterated that the park was a response to concerns raised by Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Island, over tents crowded together on Pandora Avenue after shelters closed in mid-March. Victoria opened Topaz Park to the homeless as a “temporary measure,” Helps said. “Temporary can’t last forever.”

Kaplan suggested open drug use, assaults, thefts and aggressive behaviour make it unsafe for residents and those attending the Chabad Centre, across the street from Topaz Park.

READ ALSO: Victoria fills more than 100 motel rooms with homeless population

Kaplan, who lives two doors from the centre with his wife and children, issued a statement calling on Victoria to work with the province to take immediate action.

“In no way does this improve social distancing for homeless people with no sanitation and it is not a solution for homelessness,” he said in the statement. “The community was never consulted by the city and this has turned our community into a dangerous place to live and visit. I hold the city responsible.”

Pointing fingers doesn’t help, Helps said. Rather, she plans to work with resources available and maintain pressure on the province, noting she’s convinced everyone wants to do the right thing. That means “putting pressure on the provincial government but not in a finger-wagging kind of way.”

READ ALSO: Concerns rise for Greater Victoria’s homeless population during COVID-19



c.vanreeuwyk@blackpress.ca

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