Province tells courthouse campers to leave by Feb. 25

Disgruntled campers at home in their tent city on the lawn of the Victoria courthouse said Friday they’d rather stay in their mucky environment than accept temporary accommodation the province is offering.

“The majority are staying, because what’s being offered is not sufficient, it’s not permanent” Christine Brett said, after the province handed out notices to leave the site by Feb. 25.

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Along with the notices, B.C. Housing put up posters at the site saying it will provide 88 units of transitional housing.

Brett is not a tenter, but is frequently on-site as an advocate.

She questioned why the province couldn’t put all the units in Mount Edwards Court Care Home on nearby Vancouver Street instead of 38 there and 50 more units in the Youth Custody Centre in View Royal.

Brett attributed the tenters’ negative reaction to the “condescending” way they were informed about the notice to vacate and the housing offer.

Many of the 120 or so people living on the courthouse lawn have been “failed throughout their lives,” and have been incarcerated or detained as youth, making shelter in a refurbished detention centre unsuitable, she said.

The province purchased Mount Edwards on Vancouver Street from the Baptist Housing Society for $3.65 million this week.

Sean Manley, 40, said he’s lived in Victoria for 18 years, and doesn’t plan to live in either of the planned projects. It’s a “joke” to send people to a former detention centre and rekindle “fears, phobias and addictions,” he said.

But Andrea Robinson, 49, newly homeless after being evicted from her Saanich rental home in January, said she is interested in living at Mount Edwards. “I will jump at that. It would be fine by me.”

Vincent Robinson, 21, said the encampment has brought peace of mind to him and healed personal rifts despite safety hazards such as a fire, a stabbing and other issues cited by authorities.

“I’m not going to live in that box,” he said, referring to units planned for Mount Edwards. “Tent city is where my heart got revived. … They’re going to have to force us to go.”

AmanDa Paska, 26, said she was expecting the notice. “We want to stay together and not be told by some force what to do. Most people don’t want to be inside. We like being outside,” she said, calling for running water so campers could build showers.

A lawyer hired by the Together Against Poverty Society to ensure tenters’ rights are respected contacted the province three times, most recently on Thursday, to see if the society could help with the rollout of the housing offer, said TAPS advocate Stephen Portman.

“My phone did not ring,” he said. “It’s sad. It didn’t have to go down this way. Absolutely, they feel insulted.”

Having provincial officials read a notice to vacate, combined with posters detailing the housing options, was not the best way to go about things for “people living in survival mode,” he said.

It is “really unfortunate” that the province announced positive initiatives regarding alternative housing in a negative way, he said.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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