It’s time for everyone who believes in the value of safe communities to put our differences aside and work together.
As we learn to live with COVID-19, we need to address the disruptions affecting the ability for all of us to feel safe in the places we work , live and enjoy. We are hearing from many Chamber members about the serious impact on businesses caused by temporary housing solutions. The pandemic forced the closure of shelters and required an emergency response to prevent the virus from spreading through our region’s homeless population and beyond. The City of Victoria stepped up by offering space in parks where tents could be set up with appropriate physical distancing. This moved people away from overcrowded encampments along Pandora Avenue and other areas. However, shuffling this population to different neighbourhoods forces those areas to deal with the accompanying concerns around crime, safety, mental health and addictions.
When BC Housing spent tens of millions to purchase Victoria hotels to provide homes, they thankfully included some support services. Clearly, more are needed.
We’ve heard many stories from people who live and work near these former hotels who were not given a chance to prepare for the change to their neighbourhood. They simply were not ready for the sudden increase in property crime, disturbances and medical emergencies that are hurting their efforts to restart their businesses — including some who are renowned for helping people in need.
Let’s work together on next steps in managing these challenges. It’s time for all levels of government to work together with businesses as well as residents to solve this problem before it gets worse.
First, we need to agree that, as a community, we can’t accept people living on our streets. Everyone deserves a home. We also need to agree that many people who are at risk of homelessness need more than housing. Their healthcare issues are often complex but we can’t ignore the fact that these individuals face specific challenges. They can be helped but we need the political will to acknowledge it will take time and resources. There are no quick or easy fixes but there are proven solutions that can work if we’re willing to invest in people over the long term.
And, of course, we also need to keep businesses and their property safe. We need to ensure police have the capacity to enforce the law, and to protect citizens — all citizens. Unfortunately, homeless populations are targeted by predators who try to capitalize on people with mental health issues or addictions.
I’ve had conversations with decision makers on all sides — from business owners to government, to social service agencies and the police. All of us want the same thing and we know we need to keep working together.
COVID-19 has created challenges, but we can do better when it comes to helping the homeless and vulnerable, and in protecting business to make sure all have a safe community in which to live and work.
This column was originally published in the August 2020 edition of Business Examiner.
Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce