While residents of tent city may be celebrating their victory to stay on the lawns of the Victoria courthouse, nearby residents are upset with the decision and fear things will only get worse.
On Tuesday, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson denied the province’s application for an injunction to evict campers from the courthouse lawn.
According to the ruling, Hinkson, who also ruled in favour of homeless people’s rights to erect shelters in parks in Abbotsford last year, acknowledged many homeless people cannot access shelters for a variety of reasons and they have benefitted from forming a community.
“The defendants in the case appear to benefit from responsible leadership and organization, and have established effective lines of communication between themselves and police, fire and public health authorities, in a way that prior homeless individuals . . . were unable to do,” he wrote. “While the encampment has not been without its difficulties and challenges, it is an improvement over its predecessors.”
He also stated there were some legitimate concerns about the health, general safety and fire safety of occupants in the space, but said more problems may arise if he issued the injunction and would cause the dozens of people living there to “a relentless series of daily moves to the streets, doorways, and parks of the City of Victoria.”
A trial date has been set for Sept. 7. However, if circumstances at tent city should “degenerate” between now and trial, the province will be able to renew its application for an injunction.
Wolf Montey, who has been living at the courthouse for the past month, broke down in tears when she heard the news.
“I was just so relieved,” she said, adding residents are doing everything they can to make sure things are pleasant for neighbours. “We can stay until September. We all look after each other because it’s all we really have.”
Tent city resident Chrissy Brett said it’s the sense of community that resonated with the judge and could act as a new model for other cities as well.
However, not everyone is happy with the decision.
Neighbours, who said there’s been an increase in crime since tent city was erected, said things are only going to get worse.
“I’m quite upset obviously. Things have compiled and progressed a lot with the happenings in the neighbourhood since November when tent city started,” said Brandon Ellis, who purchased a condo three years ago a block away from tent city.
He added he’s found needles, used condoms and wine bottles left on his patio.
Mel Wright, who lives on Burdett Avenue, isn’t surprised by the ruling and said there will be even more people living on the lawns come summertime.
“I thought the courts were there to uphold the law. I believe that’s what they’re for,” he said. “Stolen bikes, open fires, someone is living in a vehicle up there — all of those things are breaking the law. So what’s the purpose of the court?”
Stephen Hammond agreed.
“It’s very disappointing. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with every decision that’s made, but I think the judge got it wrong,” said Hammond, who is also the organizer of Mad as Hell, a group that opposes tent city. “The residents around there are living in hell and they’ll continue to be living in hell.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said it’s time for the province to step up and manage the site. She added she’s not concerned about tent city growing if it’s properly managed.