Victoria homeless camp stages block party on planned eviction day
Province says campers will not be forced to move indoors into shelters
Homeless campers on the grounds of Victoria's courthouse staged a block party on Thursday as they faced eviction from a tent city where more than 100 people have lived for months.
The party got off to a rough start as police cars arrived with sirens blaring to investigate a disturbance at one of the tents at the camp.
Police would not comment about an alleged assault.
The B.C. government gave campers a Feb. 25 deadline earlier this month to move, but police and the province say they'd prefer people to leave voluntarily for shelters as opposed to a forced eviction.
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Housing Minister Rich Coleman said some campers were packing up for shelters the province has provided and the situation at the camp will be monitored over the coming days.
"There's about 50 people who've accepted housing, so they'll be moving off and we'll measure it over the weekend to see how it's going," he said.
"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, so they don't have to come inside."
230 shelter beds created
In recent weeks, the government and social agencies have reached deals on housing for up to 230 people, with shelter space at a former Boys and Girls Club, a seniors' residence and a vacant youth jail.
The camp grew from a few tents last spring to dozens as people from alleyways and parks moved to the highly visible manicured grounds of the downtown courthouse.
On Thursday, a placard outside the camp advertised a block party featuring guest speakers and people from other homeless camps across B.C.
But few people were packing Thursday ahead of the block party.
Benjamin Alexander, 30, from Quebec, was among those who were leaving. He said he is moving to the former youth jail after living at the courthouse camp for almost two months.
Alexander said he considered living in city parks after several confrontations at shelters and the camp, including a beating in which he lost a front tooth and suffered injuries to his face.
"Look at my tooth, somebody punched me," he said. "Look at my face. Everyday, they are like a wolf pack. You have trouble with one, you have trouble with everybody. I'm getting not psycho, but close to it."
Coleman said he's most concerned about helping the campers get housing and providing support services for people with addictions and mental health issues, not provoking encounters with protesters.
"Whatever they want to do, block party or whatever. It makes no difference here because the only people I'm concerned about are the people who need help the most."