Victoria homeless camp a symptom of B.C.'s broken housing market
'It's horrendous, the conditions people are living in,' says neighbour
The dramatic leap in housing prices in British Columbia has pumped hundreds of millions of unexpected tax dollars into provincial coffers, but Bert Woldring wonders why so little of it has been shared with the province's poorest residents.
Woldring says he almost lost his arm in a workplace accident a decade ago and hasn't been able to work since. He once lived in a tent city in Maple Ridge, B.C., but moved to Victoria this past spring.
His construction skills have come in handy, as he's helped people here build frames, floors and roofs for their homes with donated wood.
No vacancy but big revenues
After seven months, this community now has a semi-permanent feel to it, with artwork and flower planters for decoration. There's also a trailer with flush toilets, showers and a hose with running water.
A central plaza area serves as a site for communal barbecues and there's a kiosk with emergency health supplies and condoms.
"If you'll notice, we have little neighbourhoods here, little enclaves," said Woldring during the tour.
Provincial welfare rates — and vacancy rates for social housing — are ridiculously low, said Woldring, and the $375 per month many receive for social housing won't cover rent costs.
A 2014 homeless count in Victoria concluded as many as 1,400 people in the provincial capital couldn't find a place to live.
Premier Christy Clark's government collected more than $1 billion in property transfer tax, he said. "We should be getting enough money out of that to provide decent housing for people displaced."
Province in court, again
The province is now before B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson for the second time in three months to try to show it's belatedly anteing up for those in the tent city.
In a statement to CBC News, the office of Housing Minister Rich Coleman says that since the first hearing, $26 million has been spent to create 370 new beds in shelters and other longer-term housing options.
'It's just awful'
Exasperated neighbours such as Stephen Hammond blame the province for letting the tent city drag on as long as it has.
"It's just awful what's going on here, " said Hammond.
"In a country like Canada, we should not be having people living like this. It's horrendous, the conditions people are living in there. How many rats are in there?"
"The solution to this crisis is to not move the tent city one block away or to move the people to another place. They are taking the cheapest way out possible. They have completely obliterated social programs in this province."
"Until we see housing for everyone we will continue to see tent cities, because they are a better alternative than being in a doorway," said Pauly.
Coincidentally, the B.C. housing minister is hosting Canada's federal, provincial and territorial housing ministers in Victoria this week to plot a course for future housing investments.
The federal minister responsible for housing, Jean-Yves Duclos, was shouted down by protest leaders as he came out to meet some of them at a noon-hour rally today.
Regardless of when the judge finally decides to issue an order to close the tent city down, several protestors told CBC News they feel they have already scored several key wins, such as the several hundred new social housing units.
"I sometimes feel like we have amassed this huge pile of evidence about high housing costs and low vacancy, and tent city was the flame."
With files from Chris Corday