Victoria's tent city residents stand ground on eviction day
Victoria’s contentious tent city is still standing.
Thursday was B.C.’s deadline for campers at Victoria’s courthouse to pack up and move out, but many residents stood their ground by instead throwing a block party.
One man who has lived at the encampment for three months said he had no plans to leave what residents have dubbed “Super InTent City.”
“I’m not leaving,” said Mikey. “I’m not going to pack up, I’m not going to go anywhere. I’m going to combine with my brothers and sisters, and we’re going to stand for what we believe in and if necessary, push back the laws that were made by the government.”
He’s not alone.
At a daily morning meeting, camp leaders outlined choices for tenters who had no interest in leaving the close-knit community, which has grown to over 100 residents since it sprouted up last fall.
“There’s two prevailing wishes,” said Rev. Al Tysick, who founded the Victoria Dandelion Society to help the city’s homeless. “One, that we stop here and take a stand, and the other one is that we might look for some other land.”
Tysick also thanked police for their calm response to the province-issued deadline.
Victoria Police said earlier in the week they’d attend the camp to monitor proceedings, but wouldn’t force anyone out.
Still, some campers chose to leave on their own for housing facilities opened up in recent weeks by the Cool Aid and Our Place non-profit societies.
“It’s wonderful what they did, man. I had a good night’s sleep for the first time,” said Donald Smith, who moved into transitional housing at the former Mount Edwards Care Home on Vancouver Street. “I finally said ‘enough is enough’ to myself. I’m gonna accept the help I need, I’m done travelling, I’m done this, done fighting. I’ve gotta do what I gotta do to get the help that I need.”
Our Place’s temporary “My Place” shelter on Yates Street has already filled its 40 beds, while Mount Edwards only had four beds left and was expected to fill them by Thursday night.
Only nine out of 50 beds were taken at a housing facility opened at a former youth correctional facility in View Royal, which operates like an indoor tent city.
“There’s about 50 people that have accepted housing, so they’ll be moving off,” B.C.’s housing minister Rich Coleman said in Vancouver Thursday. “We’ve got enough housing for everybody down there, so they don’t have an excuse to not come inside. But they also live in a free country, they don’t have to come inside.”
Coleman avoided talk of removing holdouts by force – but the province said in a statement that applying for an injunction is one of several options available.
“We’ll keep working with them, with the societies, to try and get them to make the decision to go where they can be safer and where they can have their meals and their support,” Coleman said.
Back at camp, residents of similar tent cities in the Lower Mainland rolled in to the planned block party in a show of support for residents who refuse to leave.
“It’s just a celebration for the time we’ve been here,” said Tysick.
Buses carrying about 100 people from Chilliwack, Abbotsford and the Downtown Eastside arrived at around 4 p.m.
The tent city sprang up at the courthouse last fall, when it was revealed a Victoria bylaw banning all-day camping in parks didn’t apply to the provincially owned land.
As the site grew in population, it sparked a wider dialogue on the lack of affordable housing in B.C.’s capital city and prompted immediate action by the province.