Multiple businesses in Victoria are speaking up about the safety concerns, harassment, and vandalism they say they have experienced since the onset of COVID-19 and the establishment of temporary homeless shelters at former hotels.
Owners of the longstanding Vancouver Island company Dodd’s Furniture and Mattress on Finlayson Street say they face daily harassment, vandalism and unsanitary waste pileups near their property, which is located one block away from the former Comfort Inn which is now being used as a homeless shelter.
“We’ve had a lot more people committing crimes in the area,” said Love Dodd, president of Dodd’s Furniture and Mattress.
“They’re on the streets, there is drug use right in front of us, they’re drug dealing right in front of us, they’re screaming at us, they’re sleeping in our parking lots,” he said.
Dodd says that staff members, customers and community members all share concerns about safety in the area, which have been escalating over the past three months.
“We’ve had cameras we’ve added that have been broken and taken out. We’ve had our doors smashed. We’ve had trucks, our truck fleet, where all the windows on the sides and the windshields have been smashed and all of the wires have been pulled out of the trucks,” he said.
Dodd said the business has had to hire security “just to have customers come from the parking lot to our front door because there’s people shooting up in front around them and yelling them and running towards them and people are scared.”
Dodd estimates that the business has had to spend $10,000 on clean-up and repair costs since the pandemic began. Cleaning crews have been hired to remove needles, garbage and other drug-related items, he said.
Safety concerns and regular property damage are something that all business owners in the area share.
Dodd said the owner of a nearby coffee shop, Java Jo’s, was threatened roughly two weeks ago.
“(The owner) called me and said that a gentleman told her that ‘when you get off your shift I’m going to wait outside and I’m going to hurt you,’” he said.
“It’s been a nightmare.”
The owner of Java Jo’s, Jolanda Machholz, told CTV News that she has been threatened and is worried about her safety.
“I’ve been threatened a few times in the past month,’ she said.
Maccholz said the harassment and threats have caused her to change her operating hours, and now she will no longer let her teenage son work at the store.
“I want my oldest son, who is 16, to be able to work here in the summer and I don’t feel safe enough for him to come in.”
She said her son worked at the café last year and loved the experience, saying that he was a shy teen who came out of his shell working at the job.
But this year, Maccholz said she is too concernred about her son’s safety, and her own, to let him work at the café.
The business owner said that many of her customers no longer use the café’s outdoor patio due to harassment, and some customers have stopped coming altogether because of safety concerns.
“I’ve had customers’ cars broken into in the middle of the day in the parking lot,” she said.
“This should be a beautiful, happy city that I remember growing up in.”
Dodd said that to help fix the growing rise in crime, he wants to see the provincial government focus on offering mental health and addictions supports, rather than just providing housing.
“The city and the province really need to step up,” he said. “Stop putting $18 million into hotel properties and using them as roofs over their heads. (The province) really needs to invest in a facility where they take care of people, council them and put them back into society when it comes to alcohol abuse or drug problems or mental health.”
“They really need to focus on that, on the root of the problem, and not mask it,” he said.
Dodd added that calling the police has not been an effective approach to curbing the rise in crime.
“Calling the police and having them arrest them is not the answer. They go to jail but they came back out in the afternoon,” he said.
Maccholz said she would also like to see increased supports for unsheltered people, “because just housing people isn’t nearly enough.”
“People need more help,” she added. ‘They need to have medical help, mental help, and not just do this on the streets, destroying other peoples’ dreams. All the businesses in this area have been broken into almost daily for the last month and a half.”
She said she hopes solutions will be implemented soon as small businesses like hers are facing an impossible task managing both the COVID-19 pandemic and a spike in crime.
“I want to see more families gathering and more people coming out, feeling comfortable sitting outside,” she said.
Maccholz said she’s thankful for the support that the community has shown her during the pandemic so far, including the support from neighbouring local businesses who are continuing to visit her shop despite facing similar economic and safety challenges.
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