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Homeless advocate Chrissy Brett is seen at the Strathcona Park homeless encampment, in Vancouver, on Sept. 17, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver police have reported a surge in the number of break-ins and calls about weapons and threatening behaviour in Strathcona, a city neighbourhood that is the site of a large homeless encampment in Strathcona Park.

Calls for service about weapons in Strathcona increased by 50 per cent in the first seven months of 2020 compared to the same period last year, break-ins jumped by 68 per cent and calls about threatening behaviour rose by 14 per cent, the Vancouver Police Department said on Thursday.

In releasing the report, the VPD said it was paying “special attention” to Strathcona, where tents first popped up around a park playing field in June after a previous encampment near Crab Park on the city’s waterfront was cleared following a court order. Strathcona Park is now the site of what some have estimated to be the largest encampment in the country, with several hundred tents, a camp kitchen and volunteers who help with food and laundry.

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Encampments in Vancouver and Victoria have highlighted the number of homeless people in both cities. They have also resulted in calls for all levels of government – city, province and federal – to do more to provide housing and other help to people who need it and to address crime and disorder in multiple neighbourhoods, including Vancouver’s downtown and Yaletown.

Deputy Chief Constable Howard Chow said he was concerned about the rise in serious crimes across the city, including Strathcona, where he noted the increase of people in and around the encampment.

“We have been talking about the street disorder, that’s also seen a significant uptick,” Deputy Chief Constable Chow said at a press conference to discuss the report.

“A lot of this has to do with simply an increase in needles, the open-air drug use, the debris, the garbage that’s also been brought into this neighbourhood. Those are some concerns that have been voiced by residents.”

Vancouver City Council on Monday passed a motion to have staff look at three options – buying or leasing hotels or other buildings, setting up a temporary relief encampment on public or private land, or temporarily converting city-owned buildings into emergency housing or shelter space – to provide emergency housing for people who are homeless.

That report is due by Oct. 2.

At Strathcona Park on Thursday afternoon, camp spokeswoman Chrissy Brett said the city’s proposed solutions don’t fully address the varied needs of people living in the camp, including drug treatment and recovery options, or spaces that could accommodate families or people trying to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

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B.C. is also grappling with record numbers of overdose deaths from toxic illicit drugs. “It sounds like a lot of step one but there is no step two available,” Ms. Brett said.

Kris Janelle said he was living in the Strathcona encampment since June, and previously lived in other encampments.

He didn’t like the idea of moving to an emergency shelter, saying he worried about the health risks – including COVID-19, bed bugs and other illnesses – of being in close quarters.

“It sounds like a germ factory to me,” he said.

Overall in the city, the VPD reported an increase in violent crime of 5.2 per cent while property crime was down by 12.9 per cent. Calls for service decreased by 9.3 per cent in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2019, the VPD said in its mid-year key performance indicator report, presented Thursday to the Vancouver Police Board. The most serious type of calls for service, known as P1s, were up by 4.4 per cent.

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