Sunday, September 2, 2007

I love my city

So when I see headlines like this I can't help but be saddened, H/T to Stargazerxl. I've re-published it in its entirety for your convenience. It may disappear suddenly if the NP complains.
DISGUSTED IN VICTORIA: National Post, September 1, 2007

There is something wrong in this city. Blessed with natural good looks and a charming, historic downtown core, B.C.'s political and tourist capital is losing appeal, nonetheless. It's no secret why; local officials don't try to deny it. Junkies, panhandlers and drunks are growing in number and becoming more brazen. They are scaring people.

"The state of downtown is our number one issue," says Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe, sitting in an outdoor cafe. "It's the same for tourists and for those of us who live here. It's the fear of coming downtown."

Most Canadians probably still imagine Victoria as a quaint seaside community, tweedy, mild of climate, with a distinct British accent. It's still all of that. But there is more talk of "junkies" and "fear" and "disorder," from the Mayor on down, and, correspondingly, more worry about the city's reputation as a great place to live and to visit.

A senior provincial bureaucrat -- B.C.'s Auditor-General, no less -- is startled when addicts start injecting drugs outside his downtown office. In February, he fires off a letter to city council, demanding action, more police patrols.

"This is not the workplace I or my staff would like to have, and certainly not the image we want to have about Victoria," writes Arn van Iersel.

A U.S.-based company cancels its four-day conference in Victoria last summer, citing "countless homeless children" as a main reason.

An event organizer explains that the atmosphere downtown "was not relaxing and enjoyable but rather quite uncomfortable. It reminded me of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver rather than a world-class city."

A pair of veteran restaurateurs pulled the plug on their waterfront business this summer, blaming "human misery and degeneracy" in the downtown district. Other business people empathize. "I call the police on a regular basis once or twice a day," the manager of an adjacent furniture shop tells the Victoria Times-Colonist.

One can see why. On Thursday, a pair of injection drug users crouched in the shop's doorway. They pushed needles into their arms. Finished, they tossed their empty syringes on to the pavement, struggled to their feet and wobbled off. Watching some of this unfold from across the street was a horror-struck family of five.

One block south, in the narrow gap between a derelict building and a parking lot, there is a busy outdoor shooting gallery. Users call it "the pit" or "the cage."

It rivals anything in Vancouver's drug-riddled Downtown Eastside. Except "the cage" is a short walk from the provincial legislature.

Men and women of all description squat on dirt and rocks and inject drugs: combinations of heroin, cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, prescription tablets ground into powder and then mixed with water. Others smoke crack cocaine and crystal meth. Trash lies everywhere.

It's where I meet Codty Gray. At 19, he claims to be the youngest person here. He says he holds a "legit" job at a fast-food restaurant, but smokes crack to ease some personal trauma and anxiety. His mother died of a heroin overdose 10 years ago.

Mr. Gray claims to live on the streets; outside of work, his world is restricted to about 10 downtown city blocks that are filled with restaurants and retail stores, many of which cater mainly to tourists. The area is also inhabited by other drug users who leave trails of syringes and broken bottles. Some defecate on sidewalks. "It's getting pretty disgusting," concedes Mr. Gray. He estimates that 200 drug users frequent "the cage" on a regular basis.

He scoffs at the suggestion, promoted by some advocates, that some 70% of drug users living on the street had mental-health issues before turning to dope. "If we have mental illnesses now, it's because of drugs."

There are other notorious hangouts, among them the plaza that surrounds Victoria's City Hall. Known as Centennial Square, it seems especially popular with boozers. They loll about a grassy knoll and on benches, drinking. They make rude comments to passersby. They seem to rule the place. A security shed sits outside one of downtown Victoria's few public toilets. It's a single room, shared by men and women. For "control purposes," I'm told. A guard warns me not to linger there.

Kenneth Kelly is general manager of the Downtown Victoria Business Association; his office faces directly on to Centennial Square. Mr. Kelly is an enthusiastic civic booster and points to many improvements the city has seen in recent years. Even so, tourism, the city's lifeblood, is flat.

He acknowledges that Victoria needs to clean up its act. "There are some days when I look out at the square and I think, 'This place is a zoo,' " Mr. Kelly says. "We should not be tolerating this."

Yet it is tolerated, to some degree. "What are the options?" shrugs Mayor Lowe. Yes, he would like to see more police officers on Victoria's streets. A summer pilot program that diverted more officers to downtown foot patrol was a success. But there's no money for more hires. And the Mayor thinks it important to "strike a balance" between law and order and respect for individual rights and freedoms.

"I don't think that grabbing people and throwing them in jail to rot is much of a solution," he says. Neither, he adds, is ignoring the growing drug problem. "Letting people overdose in the streets? I don't think that's what we want, either."

Mr. Lowe has struck a task force to identify ways to deal with public disorder in the downtown core. An interim report is expected next month. He concedes it will take more months, perhaps years, to address the problem -- and, he expects, millions of dollars for more social housing, treatment and other forms of assistance to drug addicts, the mentally ill and the homeless.

He thinks Vancouver may be on the right track, offering such services as a supervised injection site where injection drug users can fix in a controlled, "safer" environment rather than in streets and alleyways. Mr. Lowe wants to open a "supervised consumption site" where users can both inject and smoke drugs.

But the Vancouver approach -- or experiment -- can't be called a success. That city's drug problem is as bad as ever. Some say it is getting worse, thanks in part to the increasing availability of user services, most of which are concentrated in the Downtown Eastside, where thousands of addicts live.

The drug scene in Victoria is not so concentrated; rather, it is spread throughout the downtown core, which is small and easily traversed on foot. There is no desire to even attempt to contain drug use in one area. "I don't want to give any one zone over to the junkies," the Mayor says.

So "the cage" on Store Street, where Mr. Gray smokes crack, is four blocks west of a busy needle exchange on Cormorant Street, which is nine blocks north of a drug haunt and former homeless encampment near Beacon Hill Park, which is a few blocks southeast of the Inner Harbour, where panhandlers roam, which is a couple of blocks from Douglas Street, where there is just about everything.

There is virtually no place free from street crime and public disorder in downtown Victoria. No one knows this any better than Inspector John Ducker, a 28-year veteran of the Victoria Police Department. He leads the Focused Enforcement Team, a group of 25 officers that patrols the downtown area. Half of the officers walk the beat at any given time.

His men and women are overworked; Victoria police officers already have one of the highest annual caseloads in the province, at about 90 each. The national average for municipal police officers is about half that.

"Twenty years ago, we were dealing with drunks hanging around the bus depot," Insp. Ducker says. "Now it's hundreds of drug users."

He does not have any proven answers. "Things have definitely become worse in just the last two years. Open, intravenous drug use is now common. It's upsetting to people who have lived here all their lives, and to people who come to visit because it's a nice place."

It is still a nice place. Just not as nice as it used to be.

As we approach the Olympics in Vancouver, this problem will get worse and not better. Victoria is focused entirely, as is Vancouver, in transforming downtowns from multi-socioeconomic venues into playgrounds for people with money. This problem is a direct result of poor civic planning and catering to developers pimping the "World Class City" dream. I'm sorry, but no matter how many world class communities developers build, the problem on the streets will not go away.

How many times have we been told in our house hunt that skyrocketing property prices is good for cleaning up neighbourhoods. We've heard this about Vic West and Esquimalt. We've heard this about Langford and Colwood. Where do people who can't afford to rent or buy get pushed? Vancouver is redeveloping live-in hotels into luxury condos. Victoria is absorbing Vancouver's Downtown Eastside problems as fast as vagrants can "bum" ferry fare. World class city indeed. This city needs to be woken up from its ridiculous dream of being a two-month playground for the world's uber-elite and re-focus on developing sustainable, reasonable living and working conditions for the people who want to call it home year round.


Anonymous said...

Get rid of Lowe for one thing. He talks about personal freedom well I want to be able to take my young children to a movie without seeing people shooting up. We drove into a parking space at the capital 6 and there was some chick shooting up in the parking space.

Took my dog to the vet he almost chewed a needle. I took my kids to gymnastics downtown and had to hold my toddlers hand like a vice because there were neeles all over the place.

I have lived in downtown Toronto and big European cities and never seen this before.

Who wants to be stuck in Oak Bay going to shopping malls. Not me. I love a virbant downtown.

What about my family's rights? What about childrens rights? What about out freedom.


They are trying to turn this city into a mecca for rich retirees (or not even rich for that matter) does anyone really think that people want to retire to a city that has street problems like this.

Friends parents rented a condo this winter to see what it would be like. They rented it downtown because her mom loves to shop, they loves restaurants and shows etc. Anyway, they were shocked with the street people. Her dad like to get up early for a walk and was afraid to go out.

They left 2 months early - end of storey.

vg said...

"What about my family's rights? What about childrens rights? What about out freedom. "

Exactly my feelings,where are OUR rights here ? where does some junkie's rights who harrases,steals and intimidates overrules my right to walk the streets of this town in safety ? its total bullshit,and I think it is time to get a Mayor in there with a hard ass attitude and clean up this crap or no one will want to come to "junkie town" and we will be the losers in the end.
It may sound harsh but it's time to end the bleeding heart club and start a massive mandatory rehab for street junkies.



I was speaking with a paramedic at yoga the other day. A really nice young guy. Anyway, he became dehydrated during a night time basketball game and passed out. His buddies took him to the hospital and he had to wait 8 hours to see someone. He said they were pushing the addicts ahead of him as their problems were "more serious". Anyway, he knows these guys - they are hard core addicts and are in every week. This poor guy who is a paramedic himself had to wait 8 hours.

Also, Toronto does not have near the problem that Victoria has with these people. A tourist was killed a couple of weeks ago by panhandlers.

It is only a matter of time for Victoria.

I tried to send an e-mail to Lowe stating my outrage. His e-mail is down (surprise). I am going to keep trying.

hhv said...

"I think it is time to get a Mayor in there with a hard ass attitude and clean up this crap or no one will want to come to "junkie town" and we will be the losers in the end.

It may sound harsh but it's time to end the bleeding heart club and start a massive mandatory rehab for street junkies."

When your choice at civic election time is between a left-leaning liberal who wants to see some kind of 3-pillars approach to "harm reduction" and a raving socialist who wants to implement crazy policies with no thought to financial accountability, the chances of a hard line being taken anytime soon are slim to none.

This town does not have a money problem. A money problem in politics is cover-speak for we have no political will. That is the problem. When people start losing money in a big way, the political will appears. More policing is a start, but it can't start and stop there.

I don't think harm reduction is necessarily bad, but it isn't a solution to a problem. Nor is just making "living on the street" a crime. If this problem had a simple solution it wouldn't exist.

Victoria is unique because it has a big city problem in a small geographic area. Our downtown really is the equivalent size of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. No street or block is immune to the issue. It isn't contained to "the cage" (which incidently has one of if not the nicest restaurant in town in it).

Victorians, regardless of socioeconomic status, should feel safe walking down Douglas or Pandora or... or... I can't say a single street is safer than another in this town anymore. Get ready for massive condo fee bills if you live downtown to pay for private security, camera systems and door people. Maybe then we'll truly be "World Class."

Anonymous said...

Well tourism is flat or down.

The Empress lost business because of the "problem". Just wait until it starts to hurt. A friend was going to open up a restaurant here. She is a very well known chef and is on the cooking channel. Anyway, she was walking downtown with her dog and her dog was attacked by an addicts dog. She went between them and the addicts stood around cheering. Finally some high school students came along and helped. She has decided to open a restaurant in Toronto.

Why make Victoria so inviting for these addicts. If it was not so "inviting" then maybe they would not be here. Maybe make them feel not wanted. Pass a By-law saying it is illegal to hand out money. There is an organisation starting called "Take Back our Streets". It is gaining momentum.

I am also amazed at the tattoos and piercings these people have. Not cheap. Also not to mention the leather, boots etc. Many of them look pretty trendy. I always see a group of them having a party while I am dragging myself to work. They are trendy and having fun.

vg said...

"Why make Victoria so inviting for these addicts. If it was not so "inviting" then maybe they would not be here. Maybe make them feel not wanted. Pass a By-law saying it is illegal to hand out money. There is an organisation starting called "Take Back our Streets". It is gaining momentum."

Agreed, how did New York clean up Times Square ? they got serious about it instead of this wamby pamby liberalism where junkies are supposed to be part of the big picture and you are supposed to just "work around it". Believe me I have heard this from a nursing student and this is what they are teaching them,it's the "new age" thinking,just accept them,dont try to solve the problem,total bullshit.

If I was calling the shots I would take one of the elementary schools they have shut down like Blanchard or Burnside and turn them into mandatory detox centers for anyone found shooting up in the streets with a mental/medical health system that backs up these people and supports them long term.

If you don't start somewhere challenging these BS charter of rights laws that don't protect the average law abiding citzen then Victoria will be a cesspool for years to come,this city is on the brink of losing total control of this and action needs to be taken now not later and the costs of "later" will effect Victoria's economy for years to come.

vg said...


that is brutal and a prime example of what is happening to our system. I was in emergency a couple years back with a wicked virus and thought I was really going to die ( brought by ambulance and rigged up to a heart monitor too) while some piss tank/druggie in a wheel chair who harrassed everyone and pissed himself all over the floor was allowed to even stay in the same room. He shoulda been in Eric Martin not the general area as he was clearly far beyond the medical side of it but it took til he leaked himself for anyone to do anything. Of course they then dragged him off somewhere while the rest of us had to sit there til they finally brought up a janitor to clean up the mess. Left a huge bad taste in my mouth on how our system functions.


Most of the junkies are not home grown. They are from elsewhere.

Peoples patience is at the limit. Young people are fed up, left wingers are fed up, business people, moms everyone.

I talk to everyone and I have not heard one person say let them be free. In fact all of the young people seem really fed up.

One of the dads and my child's pre school used to work with street youth and he stopped because he was shocked at these kids. Many came from nice homes with loving parents. They did not want to go buy their parents rules and neither the rules of the shelters.

Anonymous said...

Not to be a left leaning liberal, but why not a single word about the real root of this problem, which happens to be the hells angels and other groups that are pushing this stuff with impunity?

If there was no crystal meth and heroin on the streets, end of problem, end of story.

Users who really needed or wanted to follow the supply would all move elsewhere, if there was none of it here. The corruption surrounding that is the real dirty little secret here and elsewhere in BC.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:02,

I am sure you are right. This is really out there but what about those countiries like Singapore etc. that very strong drug laws - like DEATH!!!!! actually. Okay maybe we should not bring back capital punishment but maybe if the drug laws (not weed) were very tight - Life!

Would things change?

Do they have a drug problems in Malaysia? Singapore?

Maybe people here have too many rights ie. drug pushers.

vg said...

anon 5:02

yes that was next on the list, laws on crystal meth especially should be like heroin was 20 years ago and the organized crime types should be punished severely for producing it. Problem is they distance themselves from the production line so it is hard to connect them and the low levels are the ones who pay the price and don't stay in jail long and the cycle repeats.

Out of all the drugs crystal meth is the scariest drug by far I have seen,it ruins lives in so short a time span.

Anonymous said...

I am probably more redneck than most but I can't see a "war on drugs" being the solution. Americans proved that doesn't work.

I think we need to make the drug users un-welcome. Pretty sad really... almost a Ralph Klein approach.

Maybe we need a one way trip to some remote west coast island. Maybe Calvert Island...

I don't know if we have the rehab services available but you could have a choice - - rehab or exclusion from our civil society.

It really is no different from most employers - if your a drunk at work you get help or loose your job. If your an addict -- kick it or loose your source of income. If you have reached rock bottom and are a drain on the civilized -- we'll get you help. Persist and you'll be excluded from our law abiding society.

Pretty harsh. But I'm sick of my car being busted into since I moved here (3 times in one year -- twice in Oak Bay). And 4 months ago my kids walked into our condo (ahead of my wife and I) to find a druggie robbing the place. In the ensuing commotion and foot chase I caught the lookout (pack sack full of drug paraphernalia) and with the help of some locals the cops caught the looser that was in my house.

They were robing the place so the guy and his partner could "fix". I figure that court time, jail time, lawyers, and police cost us all at least $50,000 as Tax Payers! And that is BEFORE SENTENCING!!

That doesn't count my time, my insurance deductible and my lost confidence in the system.

Ya -- Victoria is Paradise.


Anon 5:45

Excellent. That is something we could live with. People are fed up and don't have any sympathy any more. As the head of the victoria chamber of commerce said - they have opted out of society.


There will be those you can't help. Don;t want help and won't change their ways.

They should be sent away on some island some place. They will have food a bit of medical but just get them out of my face and away from my kids.

Jeremy said...

I live downtown on Fisgard St, Im 2 blocks from the Cormorant Needle Exchange which is such a pleasent sight. One day i saw a guy deficating right in view of Blanshard st. And when i drive to work at the naval dockyard early in the morning everyday its like a zombie moving cause thats when these creatures get up and wonder around and alot of them look like they're not all there in the head.

vg said...

When I see the guy standing at the intersection of Cook and Pandora, the prime panhandling spot, asking for money to go back to Vancouver,Toronto or what ever his sign says, they should do that,put him on a bus with a one way ticket.

I'm a very liberal person who believes in second and third chances and helping people get back on their feet but after all that and they chuck it back in your face then its see ya later,take you and your mangy dog on a rope and hit the trail.

vg said...

I hear ya, last year my girlfriend,son and I went to McDonalds on Pandora in the day light hours and when we came back to our car and there some guy with his drawers down to his ankles taking a dump for all to see up against the wall of St. Andrews school. I was so frigging disgusted that I wrote Mayor Lowe but of course he never acknowledged my email.

Needless to say I have never gone back to that McDonalds I was so grossed out.

Sarah said...

Good on you for posting this article. I am moving back to Victoria next month after a two-year absense and am not looking forward to dealing with the increased presence of the druggies on the streets.

I love the city, and my reason for moving back is to live close to downtown and enjoy what it has to offer: now I'm reconsidering and might opt for somewhere else. When I lived in Victoria previously (in Fernwood) I was harassed every day on my walk to work, had my car broken into at least once a month (ended up just leaving the doors open after a while) and was more than once screamed at by inebriated teenagers in the evening for being a 'cheap bitch' if I didn't hand over some change. There's nothing quite like dragging your ass home from another long day of work on Thursday afternoon just to be harassed by the gang playing hackey sack and shooting up on the sidewalk for your hard-earned money.

I hope this article gives this extremely important issue in Victoria more attention and forces Lowe to get his head out of the sand - I'm sick of hearing him speak about helping these people - I realize there is a social issue here, but the fact that responsible citizens who care for the city and pay taxes can't enjoy a walk downtown without feeling safe is a bigger issue in my mind.

Anonymous said...

I am not really a fan of taking it easy on the druggies. I love going downtown to have a bite/drink but this is getting out of control. Personally, I would rather have them rot in jail then rot on the street and make it a public display. I would rather have my tax dollars go towards them being thrown in jail or rehab then trying to setup a safe injection site or keep them on the street.

If downtown does not clean itself up they are going to loose a lot of money because locals/tourists will no longer flock there.

Personally I will be one of them. I cannot wait until all of Bear Mountain is complete and have a few more shops, restaurants, etc and still within a close proximity from many locations.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think there is a place for some vigilantism. You get enough regular law-abiding citizens deciding to take the law into your hand. It tends to get laws changed, and action taken.

Anonymous said...

I have been trying to send a message to Lowe (not that it would help) put of the course his e-mail is down. Probably due to the article.

Anonymous said...

And now the Globe and Mail has an article about beautiful downtown Victoria:

Some interesting quotes from the article:

Ralph Wherry was sitting on the steps of the Streetlink shelter yesterday, waiting for a bed. A lifelong resident of Victoria, he isn't impressed with demands that the services move to a less popular area.

"It's like people who move in next to an airport and then complain about the noise," he said. "This has been here longer than those businesses - they can't bitch."

The mayor's plan:

But Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe doesn't believe solutions can be found in tougher bylaws or moving services like Streetlink.

"There are areas around the social-service providers that attract more vulnerable citizens," he said in an interview. "But we have to do more than arrest them."

He wants the provincial government to provide more treatment for the mentally ill and drug addicts, and to help fund low-income housing.

Anonymous said...

Druggies taking the government to court is just a sign of the times

I think things are getting a bit out of whack here!! I presume legal aid is picking up the bill.

vg said...

It was the top story on CH news tonite and to see the shots of crack alley hit home even more. The lady running the Swans Hotel is at the end of her rope with guests writing letters that they will never return to Victoria and demanding money back. Not to mention the penthouse suite with the prime view of crack alley.

They said they can't do a New York style sweep of the city due to "judicial" laws that are different meaning the charter of rights. I say bullshit,challenge the laws and Campbell should get off his fat ass and do something now,not after blowing the bank on the Olympics then claim poverty on the public coffers.
I hope the don't bury this story once the work week starts.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:24 and VG,

Charter of rights. Okay I love walking around naked (not really, I look much better with my clothes on) so why can't I walk around butt naked on government?

What if you like sex in public? Isn't it your right? Publish racists books. Why not! Start a Natzi Group. Hey it is my right!

Maybe the right to carry a gun? Satanic rituals? Child Pornography. Isnt it our right to do whatever we want in a free society.

And damn it - if we want to shoot up in front of the elderly, children and crap all over the sidewalks we will do it!!!!!

House Frau said...

As far as I am concerned when you opt out of the social contract you have no rights!

vg said...

good points anon 7:23 and house frau.

I do have to give CH credit tonite as they started out saying "Victoria has been given a black eye on a national level". They didn't kid glove anything and showed the ugly facts of life down there and that people are fed up with this crap.

Another fact that bothers me is the spread out effect of the thieves and scavengers that goes for miles outside the city core. They are even camping out on the meridian of rocks and bushes at the end of Blanchard St by Saanich Rd by Walmart.

Our apartment dumpsters are now locked after 10 PM but the ones next door arent and these guys are in there late at night dumping the whole recyling bins out and sorting them out then stomping them for a half hour. We are at the point of renting out in Central Saanich by spring. I love this town but not the city. I really think we are at a turning point in this city on all levels. High priced condos won't change the problem.

greg said...

The problem might change high priced condos.

Anonymous said...


I hate malls but as my kids are afraid to go downtown I went to Mayfair Mall. There was a guy panhandling in the parking lot in front of ToysRUs. Had I not been in a rush I would have called security. Of course there was some idiot giving him money.

I have seen them on the Rockland/Oak Bay border. We went for a "hike" in Beacon Hill Park the other day. Myself and my 4 kids. Well low and behold there was a camp there with clothes, used toilet paper, tent, drug paraphanalia. I had to scream at my kids not to touch anything as they were curious.

All the cars in Queenswood were broken into last summer. Friends have a video camera and caught it all on tape. She said they were like rats.

I think I am a compassionate person but I must say I am not and I have not met anyone who feels these people have rights.

Aleks said...

"Not to be a left leaning liberal, but why not a single word about the real root of this problem, which happens to be the hells angels and other groups that are pushing this stuff with impunity?"

That's not the real root of the problem, although it would probably be a good idea to get the RCMP organized crime guys out on the island. Or maybe they already are, those sorts of investigations take years.

Anyway, the real real root of the problem is that the Campbell government closed down institutions and care facilities and kicked a bunch of mentally ill people out on the street. This is the logical consequence of that. They took a provincial problem/expense and made it a municipal problem/expense. And I bet if you added up all the associated costs, it's now a bigger expense. Penny wise, pound foolish.

Anonymous said...

It gets worse. 5 murders in South Oak Bay TODAY. Who wants to live here now?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

It said in the Times Colonist that the house was for sale. I truly hope that this crime was not because of financial difficulties. How tragic and sad.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a divorce issue to me - the house was likely for sale because of the divorce.