Dear Dr. Henry,
First of all, thank you for the work you and your staff are doing during this pandemic.
In your June 1st address to the public you announced that this is the start of Seniors Week. You said, “Taking care of those who are older is incredibly important…We know and we have said this many times over the months…our seniors and elders are vital to the well-being of our community, they are the keepers of our history… Let’s take the time this week to honour our seniors by doing all we can to care and protect them.”
These are noble thoughts and words, but unfortunately for the seniors and elders of the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood in Victoria not only is this not happening but to the contrary, the actions of governments (federal, provincial and municipal) have actually done the opposite. By suddenly, and with no warning, placing hundreds of tent city homeless people in motels in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood, (on top of the great number of “supportive housing” sites, etc. already there) governments have caused a health crisis among the seniors and elders in Burnside Gorge whom you say should be protected and cared for. You have said, and statistics show, that seniors and elders are at the greatest risk during this pandemic, yet these risks are being greatly increased by well-intentioned, perhaps, but failing government policies and a shocking lack of support for Burnside Gorge.
Burnside Gorge is not a NIMBY neighbourhood. Only a little more than a year ago the Ministry of Housing signed a written promise to the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood to not place any more supportive housing in Burnside Gorge, due to the fact that the neighbourhood already is the location of 80-90% of all the supportive housing in Greater Victoria. That agreement was broken, without any warning at all to residents.
As we know, stress is a major health risk. The seniors and elders (and others) in Burnside Gorge are being subjected to the extreme stress of the risk of living in a neighbourhood where crime and the threat of violence are suddenly skyrocketing out of control. Theft, gross public indecency of all manners, needles, prowlers, graffiti, garbage, noise, harassment, and even threats of violence and death. (see Times-Colonist, May 28, 2020 “Neighbours Report More Disruptions After Homeless Campers Move Into Hotel.”) This is not hyperbole. This is the lived experience in Burnside Gorge today. Many seniors and elders now live in fear of not only going out their door, but also of who might come in.
This whole issue is a major health risk for these seniors who have up to this point only received continuous buck passing and noble words from government officials. Community leaders have repeatedly contacted and called for all levels of government to intervene to save these vulnerable seniors and elders (and others). All to no avail.
In my own case, while simply walking outside on Gorge Rd. on a sunny afternoon a few days ago, getting the fresh air that you yourself have repeatedly advised us to take to maintain our health, I encountered a man who suddenly pulled out a three foot long silver, shiny, curved sword and began waving it wildly and slashing in the air. Terrified, I escaped to a wooded area across the street. An isolated case? I later learned that a woman had been confronted with the same terrifying experience just one hour before, in the same block. The man was never located.
Weapons confiscated by Victoria Police from one car two blocks from where I was accosted:
Even though you live in Victoria, I wonder if you even know that all this is happening. After all, Victoria’s famous double-decker tour buses don’t include Burnside Gorge on their city tours and the media has virtually ignored this situation. I can’t imagine you would know about a major health issue such as this, and deliberately turn a blind eye and do nothing and say nothing. Please reassure us that you have not known about this local health issue and ignored it, but that now you will act immediately.
As I watch and listen to your public updates, I hear lots of questions from reporters asking about when hockey will return and when will camping be allowed in the parks. I have yet to hear one single question about the health crisis governments are causing among Burnside Gorge seniors and elders. It is a neighbourhood health crisis which never shows up in the daily statistical updates. I sincerely hope that the journalists who are allowed questions will raise this important matter so everyone knows what is going on in Burnside Gorge and to give you ample opportunity to reply.
I know you are not in charge of policing. I know you are not in charge of housing. But you are the Provincial Health Officer and as such, you have great powers in matters of public health, especially in the middle of not one, but two, officially declared medical emergencies currently in B.C. But more importantly, in my opinion, is the position of moral leadership you now hold in this province and some would say, indeed, around the world. Many people trust you and listen to you. The public and even the government have expressed confidence in you in many ways. Your words count more than probably any other person in B.C. during this health crisis. Burnside Gorge seniors and elders now live under a double threat to their health: corona 19, and public safety.
Please use your position to immediately do what you can to end this dramatic and serious health risk that Burnside Gorge seniors and elders are living under on a daily basis. Governments have failed in this regard. Burnside Gorge needs your immediate attention. Until then, it cannot be truthfully said that all seniors and elders in B.C. are being honoured and protected as you have repeatedly called for.
This is Seniors Week. Noble words are not enough in this case. Quick intervention is needed now.
Help. Please. No one else is listening. You are the last hope.
Burnside Gorge, Victoria
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