Christ Church Cathedral wants tent city shut down

The leader of Christ Church Cathedral is calling for the tent city by the provincial courthouse to be dismantled and its residents accommodated elsewhere, after an escalation of disturbing incidents in the area, which includes a school.

“We will continue to advocate for policy to help [the homeless], but the change is that we are now saying tent city is no longer a tenable solution,” said Dean M. Ansley Tucker.

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The cathedral has led community support for tent-city residents with daily outreach, meals, access to amenities and mediation. But over the past week, Tucker said, needles and human feces were cleaned from the cathedral lawn, a naked person was found in the washroom, two people were observed injecting drugs in sight of Christ Church Cathedral School students and a delirious person had to be removed from the property.

She cited an increase in incidents reported to police, drug use in the area, safety concerns and the departure of stabilizing residents from the camp.

In her Sunday sermon, Tucker shared her concerns with the congregation. She said the tent city had degenerated to the point that the province should renew its application for an injunction to disband the camp.

Tucker plans to take her concerns to Housing Minister Rich Coleman and Mayor Lisa Helps.

A ministry spokesperson said if safety concerns cannot be addressed, seeking an injunction might be necessary, but could not say if that was being considered.

Tucker said the cathedral will continue to support tent-city residents.

“Christians would think it incumbent upon us to engage with those who hold power for positive change. We want the decision-makers to stop dithering and take action,” said Tucker, adding the cathedral will not be aligned with any groups disrespectful to the homeless campers.

The decision to call for the camp to be dismantled was a difficult one, she said. “You have two vulnerable populations in one place — children and the street-entrenched with many issues. Put both side by side and I believe children are the most vulnerable,” Tucker said.

At the tent city Monday afternoon, residents were busy tidying walkways and discussing housing plans and how to divert a newly installed tap runoff directly to a storm drain to avoid making mud.

“We are doing the best we can with very little to be organized,” said Ana McBee, 32. She had not heard about the dean’s sermon, but was not surprised at increasing concern about drug paraphernalia.

“There are a lot of invisible users in the community. What they do gets attributed to us,” said McBee, noting a system is in place to contain and clean drug paraphernalia used by camp residents. Residents also take shifts cleaning the surrounding areas, she said.

McBee said some of the camp’s leaders have moved on, but many, including McBee, remain unable to secure housing. The former University of Victoria sociology student said she never set out to be homeless or a homeless advocate, but has been motivated by what tent-city residents have accomplished.

The tent city has improved the lives of many people who couldn’t handle the shelters and felt unsafe, she added.

Stephen Portman from Together Against Poverty Society, the legal advocacy group supporting tent-city residents, said while issues at the homeless camp have become more complex, premature dismantling of it would be disastrous for residents and the city.

“You’d be evicting them back to the doorways and alleys and different small parks,” Portman said. “Then, the burden would go back to the city to come up with solutions, when it’s the province’s responsibility.”

Portman said the province should work harder to open existing shelter spaces, such as the additional spaces at Mount Edwards Court. He cited the $375 shelter rate for income assistance, coupled with no rent-increase restrictions, as policies that drive homelessness, but did give the province credit for providing $30 million for affordable housing in the capital region. “Now let’s get the shovels in the ground,” he said.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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