British Columbia

Victoria courthouse campers staying put despite letter from province

Homeless residents of a tent city on the lawn of Victoria's courthouse say they are not going anywhere despite receiving a letter from the province encouraging them to move to shelters.

"We want to be visible, because out in the street alone, you are invisible."

Campers on the Victoria courthouse lawn and their supporters held a protest and news conference today after the province sent the campers letters asking them to move into shelters and disband their camp. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Homeless residents of a tent city on the lawn of Victoria's courthouse say they are not going anywhere despite receiving a letter from the province encouraging them to move to shelters.

The letter, from the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services, encourages campers "to work with the homeless outreach workers on-site to make arrangements for alternate shelter" because of growing numbers of campers and "an increasing number of health and safety concerns."

One camper, John Lafrance, said he will not be leaving the tent city.

"We want to be visible," he said. "Because out in the street alone, you are invisible. Everybody walks through you. They don't have any time for homelessness."

The province opened a new 40 bed shelter in Victoria last week in response to the tent city, but supporters of the 100 or so campers say it's not nearly large enough and does not make up for a lack of affordable housing in the city.

"The provincial government needs to come and work with the members of the tent city to find lasting, sustainable, meaningful solutions to end the housing crisis in Victoria," said Ashley Mollison.

In an emailed statement, the ministry said the province has provided about $600,000 to help open 80 new winter shelter spaces in Victoria in addition to 145 extreme weather shelter spaces.

Those spaces are activated by the community depending on weather conditions and the province says the average occupancy rate has been 66 per cent this winter.

The province said they will give the campers "reasonable time to move," and has not set any timelines for further action, including moving the campers by force.

Shelter operator: 'shortage of supportive and affordable housing'

Don Evans is executive director of the Our Place Society which runs the 40-bed facility that opened last week.

He says not every person camping on the courthouse lawn would want to come into a shelter facility, and even if they did, there wouldn't be enough room for them all.

"Many of us have been working on housing solutions for people that are homeless for a long time, and it's a challenge because we do have such a shortage of supportive and affordable housing in this community," he told All Point West host Robyn Burns.

"There hasn't been any built in the last couple of years, the homeless population has been growing over many years and there's just not the resources in this community to house people."

Protesters hold signs at the Victoria courthouse lawn's tent city. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Campers demand 'meaningful solutions' to end Victoria housing crisis

With files from Megan Thomas


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