Victoria courthouse campers reject offer of temporary shelter
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, January 11, 2016 1:13PM PST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 12, 2016 10:06AM PST
VICTORIA - Offers of legal help and church support have rallied dozens of homeless people camped at Victoria's law courts who say they are preparing for a standoff with British Columbia's government.
The campers held a news conference Monday at the entrance to their campsite announcing that they will reject plans to break up a community that has become a public example of the province's lack of affordable housing.
The City of Victoria has been wresting with the homeless issue since a 2008 court ruling allowed people to put up tents in city parks when shelters were full.
B.C.'s ministry of technology, innovation and citizens' services, which is responsible for the courthouse property, sent a letter to the camp in concern that the growing number of people at the site has created health and safety concerns.
A 40-bed homeless shelter opened last week to take in some of the campers, but up to 100 people remain at the site, which has been steadily growing since last spring.
“We believe this is an effort to hide homelessness and not solve it,” said camp supporter Ashley Mollison about the government actions.
She said the government is attempting to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on the homeless without addressing the diverse needs at the camp, which the campers are calling Super InTent City.
“We're here to speak out against the displacement of the Super InTent City residents ... and also to say the solutions are here in the tent city,” said Mollison.
Mollison said the campers reject the government letter which suggests they seek alternate shelter arrangements.
The letter, delivered to campers on Friday, encouraged those living at the site to work with outreach employees to find alternative shelter.
“While the province appreciates the complex issues facing campers at the site, a growing number of campers over the past month has created an increasing number of health and safety concerns, making the courthouse property not a viable location for campers,” stated the letter.
A man died of a suspected drug overdose at the camp last month, and another man was taken to hospital after a stabbing at the camp last month. Police caught the suspect in the stabbing incident after chasing a man through the downtown neighbourhood where the camp is located.
Citizens' Services Minister Amrik Virk could not be immediately reached for comment about the government's plans for the camp and its residents.
The City of Victoria has supplied portable toilets and a dumpster at the camp site.
Camp resident John Lafrance said people are preparing for long-term stays at the camp, calling it a permanent home that puts a public face on homelessness. He said the sight of homeless people camping in large numbers in public may be enough to spur governments to address homelessness issues.
“We're unified and we're going to stay here until someone shows us different who can help us,” he said.
Victoria's Together Against Poverty Society said it has retained lawyers who are prepared to fight government eviction moves.
Victoria street preacher Rev. Al Tysick called on the city's faith community to pitch tents at the courthouse if evictions are issued.