With neighbours like these . . .
Five years after someone first set about sweeping away the all-too-visible signs of poverty in the area around Pandora Green, someone finally thought to ask members of the street community how they felt about life on the 900 block of Pandora. Last Friday, the Greater Victoria Committee to End Homelessness, along with the Radical Health Alliance (RHA), gathered across from Our Place to serve food and ask Victoria’s homeless what they thought of the Pandora Green Good Neighbour Agreement.
“When you read between the lines of the Good Neighbour Agreement, the assumptions that it’s putting forward about people who use the 900 block are very stigmatizing,” says Seb Bonet of the RHA. “It puts forward the idea they they produce unsafety, that they are bringing down property values.”
Since its creation, the agreement recognized that the clientele of Our Place fit into the category of Neighbours on the 900 block, but while property owners, police and municipal officials were deeply involved in the document’s creation, Friday was the first time many living on the street had even heard of it. Bonet says Friday’s event was an attempt to make up for the consultation that the City of Victoria, Victoria Police,VIHA and property owners should have carried out when they signed the agreement back in 2009.
A central tenet of the agreement is that all neighbours should feel safe, welcome and comfortable, but a glance at the responses to the RHA’s survey indicate this is not the case. Amid calls for a safe injection site or a secure place to leave belongings to avoid having them confiscated or searched by officials, Bonet says a common theme was apprehension about the constant presence of police in an area populated by people whose way of life puts them at odds with the law.
The Pandora Green Good Neighbour Agreement is a microcosm of our region’s approach to the harsh realities of poverty. Instead of searching for a balance between the needs of the street community and other interests, it succumbs to paranoia and misinformation. Instead of providing hope, it seeks to “manage social issues to reduce or eliminate their impact,” calling for more enforcement, more restriction, and blindly trailing behind those who still believe we can police poverty away. M