16 agencies ask B.C. to keep tent city until long-term fix is found

Sixteen agencies that provide services to marginalized residents in downtown Victoria have asked the B.C. attorney general to “take no steps to dismantle” the tent city at the Victoria courthouse lawn until “reasonable and sustainable shelter alternatives” are established.

The letter sent Thursday to Suzanne Anton was signed by Kathy Stinson, executive director of the Victoria Cool Aid Society, who is chairwoman of the Downtown Service Providers Committee that includes Our Place Society, Together Against Poverty Society, Action Committee of People with Disabilities, Dandelion Society, the Committee to End Homelessness and the Community Social Planning Council.

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Having so many agencies sign indicates the lack of resources to help the residents of tent city if they are evicted, said Stephen Portman, lead advocate of TAPS.

“Both Cool Aid Society and Our Place Society have endorsed that letter and both of them are managing housing on behalf of the province of British Columbia that was created in reaction to Super Intent City,” he said.

He does not want a tent city anywhere, but in the short term if the Supreme Court of B.C. grants an injunction to remove the campers, Victoria police will have no choice but to place campers on the sidewalk, Portman said.

“Where to do they go from there? There is no answer to that question,” Portman said.

“The forcible removal of those living in survival conditions is not the solution,” said the letter.

“We ask the province to instead show continued leadership and commitment to vulnerable citizens of this province by proactively expanding housing options throughout Victoria and surrounding municipalities.”

In February, the province purchased the Mount Edwards building for $3.6 million and made 38 beds available there. It also has made 50 beds available at the former youth custody centre in View Royal.

Scores of tents and makeshift shelters were pitched on the Burdett Street courthouse lawn beginning in November.

Some homeowners in the neighbourhood are outraged that the province will adopt provisions of a city bylaw, allowing camping on the lawn from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. once the grounds are repaired. The campers moved to the lawn because provincial property was not covered by the city bylaw.

Camping in public parks where there are isolated spots is far different from camping on an urban lawn “in the middle of a residential neighbourhood” almost next to Christ Church School, said nearby homeowner Gillian Ley.

“It is an contemptible situation for our neighbourhood. The majority of criminal activity and noise happens at night, when the tents will be permitted. … We are frightened and angry that this has been imposed on us.”

Stephen Hammond, another neighbour, said that overnight camping on the courthouse lawn is “preposterous and ridiculous.”

As downtown residents, they’re used to occasional vandalism, but it’s now happening frequently, he said.

“We are under siege.”

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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