City demolishes portion of court-protected homeless camp in Prince George
'This has been handled with brutality,' lawyer representing camp residents says of destruction
The City of Prince George has demolished several shelters in a homeless encampment that is protected by a court ruling issued last month.
The Patricia Boulevard camp is home to an estimated 50-70 residents.
In October, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled against the city's effort to remove the camp because the judge in the case found there were not enough suitable housing options to accommodate all the residents.
The judge ruled the city could reapply to remove the camp once it felt it could provide evidence those living there could be housed elsewhere.
But on Wednesday, city crews used heavy equipment to take down several structures in the camp, saying they had been "abandoned" by residents who had already moved indoors.
In a statement, city spokesperson Mike Kellett said the city is not closing the encampment as a whole but confirmed it is removing several structures and items it believes are no longer needed by residents.
"Each encampment occupant who relocated confirmed with outreach staff their wish to no longer live in the structure and that they understood it and anything they left behind would be removed by the city following their departure," he said in an email.
Kellett said the reason for the removals was to reduce the risk of fire after one structure was burned last week.
Darlene Kavka, one of the lawyers who represented camp residents in the court case, said that is not the case.
She said several residents of the camp had moved into alternative housing but are once again living on the street and returned to find their belongings in piles of rubble.
"They were trying to dig their possessions out," she said.
Kavka said the city is taking a simplistic approach by assuming that people who find temporary housing won't be in need of the camp again.
"The court order itself said 'suitable housing,'" she said. "If it's not suitable for a particular person, just getting them out for a night doesn't make it anymore suitable ... people are facing complex needs that won't fit into a simple box."
Kavka said she is assessing whether any legal action can be taken.
Kellett said the city believes it is adhering to the court order and is continuing to work with B.C. Housing to find spaces for everyone living in the encampment.
Meanwhile, the city has indicated it will appeal the judgment handed down in October.
Kavka said while she agrees with the overall goal of getting people indoors as the winter months set in, she believes it is in the community's best interest to allow vulnerable people a space where they can gather should suitable shelter space not be available.
She also said that by bulldozing a portion of the camp, the city is re-traumatizing vulnerable members of the community.
"This has been handled with brutality," she said.