Hay was brought in to help absorb some of the moisture at Victoria's tent city on Burdett Avenue.

Moving day looms for tent city campers

Many campers say they won't move from the tent city on Burdett Avenue by the province's Feb. 25 deadline.

Before he slips on a pair of orange gloves to pick up the garbage strewn across Victoria’s tent city, Raven is asked how he feels about leaving the place he’s called home since late October.

“Leaving?” he says, then explains he’s been lied to about the showers at the building the tent city campers are supposed to move into next week. Raven doesn’t plan on going anywhere until he has somewhere permanent to move.

“This is not a great lifestyle. I wouldn’t mind playing an Xbox once in a while…but aside from that, we made it a home, we made it a community.”

More than 80 people are still living outside Victoria’s courthouse, but have recently been told by the province (which owns the property) that they have to leave by Feb. 25 due to safety concerns.

In order to prepare for the eviction, the province has been working to find temporary shelter for the campers to move into and is now getting ready to open 88 units of transitional housing and shelter space, along with 40 rent supplements.

Thirty-eight of those spaces will be in the newly purchased Mount Edwards Court Care Home at 1002 Vancouver St., which will provide transitional housing units operated by the Victoria Cool Aid Society.

An additional 50 spaces will be available at the former Victoria Youth Custody Centre building in View Royal, which will provide three meals per day along with the option of camping in the courtyard.

The View Royal shelter will be open for approximately six months and Mount Edwards for 12 months. Both facilities are slated to open their doors on Tuesday and will provide a range of support services so campers have access to more stable, long-term housing, including rent supplements that will be administered by Pacifica Housing.

Don Evans, executive director of Our Place, which is running the shelter in View Royal, said a moving truck will be provided for three days to help campers transition into their new home.

Evans admits he’s hearing mixed reactions from campers about the new shelter. As of last Tuesday, 15 people had signed up to move into the facility, but Evans expects it will be full within a few weeks.

“Some people are having a hard time getting around the fact that it was a correctional centre so that is one of the challenges. The other is the distance with how far out it is,” said Evans, adding a shuttle bus will be on hand to take people downtown.

“Our job is to make it a positive environment for them so we’re going to do what we can to soften it…I think once people get in there and they get comfortable in that space they are going to really enjoy it.”

At the Mount Edwards location, Don McTavish, manager of shelters for the Victoria Cool Aid Society, had a list last Tuesday of 36 people interested in staying at the building, which was formerly used as an 80-room residential home for seniors with a central courtyard, staff rooms, a built-in kitchen, dining area and lounge.

McTavish would like to explore long-term housing for the building. At this time, however, only the main floor has been renovated to make it operational for 38 rooms.

Outside the courthouse, a security guard is now patrolling the perimeter of the site packed with tents, pallets for walkways, garbage, a few permanent structures and an assortment of other items.

In a written statement, the province said it hopes the campers will take advantage of the shelter options that are being offered, but it’s premature to say what will happen after the eviction date.

Lee Bonwick doesn’t live at tent city, but goes there on a regular basis to visit friends. Many of them don’t want to leave, he noted, because they like the freedom to do whatever they please.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t follow a set of normal rules. They get put into housing and then they just get kicked out again and it’s a whole other cycle,” said Bonwick, noting his friends haven’t said much about the eviction date. “I think people are going to try and ignore it until it’s gone.”