Courthouse lawn tenters could be inside by month’s end

A search is underway for a site to bring the courthouse campers indoors, tents and all, Our Place confirmed Wednesday.

Don Evans, executive director of Our Place, said his agency has been selected to run the housing project to give the tenters an indoor alternative to the Victoria courthouse lawn at 850 Burdett Ave.

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Evans said his organization, which provides services to the poor and homeless, has a couple of sites in mind, but it’s too early to identify them. The target is to bring the tenters indoors, with their camping gear, by the end of the month.

“They [the tenters] want to have some privacy,” he said. “So by having the tents indoors, we have taken away the impact of the weather and it still provides them with some privacy.”

The provincial government has pledged $380,000 to fund 40 sleeping spots to house the courthouse campers. It has already provided portable outhouses at the courthouse lawn.

Premier Christy Clark has said if the campers don’t move to the new shelter when it’s open, they will be asked to leave the lawn. The provincial government did not respond to questions on Wednesday.

A tent encampment has been growing on the courthouse lawn through the fall.

Since the grassy patch is owned by the province, the municipal bylaw that forbids camping in parks after 7 a.m. and before 7 p.m. does not apply.

Without any official complaint from the owner, in this case the province, Victoria police have been powerless to ask tenters to move or take down their tents.

So tents have stayed all day long, and the encampment has grown to 40 to 50 tents, to the horror of neighbours, who have reported disturbances and thefts.

Evans said any site to house the courthouse campers would be temporary and would likely shut down by the end of April. But it’s hoped it can run longer.

It will also remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Regular shelters are open only at night.

Evans said the most immediate challenge facing Our Place is to find a site. After that, the next challenge will be getting the tenters to use it. “A lot of them have some pretty negative experiences going into shelters,” he said.

Tenters have indicated they want the chance to work and maintain their own space, doing things such as cleaning dishes or providing security. Such a shelter has proved to be effective elsewhere, and he hopes it will also work in Victoria, Evans said.

In many ways this moment might be the beginning of real change, he said.

“This is a real opportunity. This tent city has got the awareness of government, so the government is actually stepping up to do something. We haven’t seen that in quite a while. So I’m really encouraged by that.”

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