British Columbia

City of Prince George to appeal ruling in favour of homeless camp

Council said in a release that they plan to both appeal the B.C. Supreme Court ruling allowing Patricia Boulevard camp to remain, and file a new application to shut down the camp once they believe enough housing is in place to support the people living there.

B.C. Supreme Court ruled downtown encampment can remain due to lack of housing options

A message on a tent in a homeless camp in Prince George, B.C. celebrates the B.C. Supreme Court on Oct. 22 ruling preventing the city from shutting down the encampment along Patricia Boulevard. (Amelia Merrick/Together We Stand)

The City of Prince George says it plans to appeal a B.C. Supreme Court ruling preventing them from shutting down a homeless encampment near the downtown core.

Council said in a release issued Friday that they plan to both appeal the ruling, and to file a new application to shut down the camp once they believe enough housing units are in place to support the people living there.

The ruling, issued by Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson on Oct. 22, found there is not enough accessible housing in Prince George to justify allowing the city to shut down a homeless encampment that has been established along Patricia Boulevard.

Without alternatives, the people living in the camp would be forced to relocate to other public spaces in order to survive, Hinkson said in the decision.

B.C. First Nations Justice Council lawyer Melanie Begalka, who represented camp residents in court, said it was an important ruling — particularly in a more northerly community, where survival without shelter can be even more of a challenge than in southern areas.

"We were happy to see that the court recognized that when people have nowhere to go, when it's freezing, they have to be able to shelter somewhere," she said in an interview following the decision.

"These residents really feel safer there. They are safer when they're together, they look out for each other, they've built community. So, in the absence of any good options, this is the best option for them."

LISTEN | Lawyers Melanie Begalka and Darlene Kavka on the court ruling: 
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled a homeless camp in downtown Prince George will be allowed to stand. We speak to lawyers Darlene Kavka and Melanie Begalka about how and why they successfully argued the case on behalf of camp residents. 8:21

The ruling was also celebrated by homeless advocates outside Prince George, with residents of an encampment in Vancouver's CRAB Park saying they hoped it would set a precedent for other B.C. municipalities seeking to dismantle homeless communities elsewhere.

'Bridge too far'

Troy DeSouza, legal counsel for the City of Prince George in court, said the judgment was "a bridge too far" and argued that it prevented municipalities from managing public space by allowing tents and other shelters to be erected on a semi-permanent basis with no recourse other than building suitable housing.

"From a practical point of view, it would be very difficult for the people, for the government level that's in charge of housing… to determine what exactly is suitable housing, right? Because that certainly may well be in the eye of the beholder," DeSouza said.

In its release announcing the decision to appeal, the city said it believed there are "errors in the law within the B.C. Supreme Court's reasons for judgment."

Fencing bars entry to a lot on George Street that had been used as a homeless encampment for roughly 20 residents. (City of Prince George)

Hinkson did allow the city to shut down a second, smaller camp downtown along George Street, arguing that people living there could move to the Patricia Boulevard location if they were unable to find alternative shelter spaces.

Earlier this week, the city said they had shut that camp down and 20 residents living there have been moved into supportive housing. It said it is working with B.C. Housing to establish appropriate housing for residents of the Patricia Boulevard camp.

Amelia Merrick, an advocate for the residents of the homeless camp, said she was disappointed by the city's decision to appeal the ruling.

"This is a misappropriation of funds and resources," she said. "The money that will be spent on an expensive legal case will not result in any change for the people whose lives are most affected," which she said included both those living in the camp and those living and working nearby.

Merrick said city leaders should instead be focusing resources on creating suitable housing and argued that continued legal action is "a misappropriation of their authority, of their budget and a corruption of their time."


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal to 250.552.2058.

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