By Pamela Roth and Kendra Wong
After a lengthy battle, the B.C. Supreme Court has ordered the tent city on the lawns of the Victoria courthouse to shut down by early next month.
In a judgement released Tuesday, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson ordered the camp to be shut down by Aug. 8, after deeming it unsafe for both residents of the camp and nearby neighbours and businesses.
“I find that the violence and criminal activities at the encampment have markedly increased since March of this year to the point where the encampment is unsafe, and for that reason conclude that the encampment poses a risk to both its residents and the residents and businesses in the area,” he said in the judgement.
Earlier this year, Hinkson denied the province’s application for an injunction to remove the campers on the grounds there wasn’t anywhere else for them to go.
However, since then the province has committed to opening a number of facilities to help house the residents of the tent city on Burdett Avenue. Last month, it purchased the former Super 8 Hotel on Douglas Street for $6.5 million to house 51 people. The province also purchased the former Central Care Home building on Johnson Street at a cost of $11.2 million. The building will provide more than 140 additional housing units and tenants will begin moving into the building next month.
People who wish to transition into new housing must provide photo identification or agree to be photographed and identify which tents, shelters, objects on the encampment belong to them, according to the judgement.
Residents had mixed emotions about the news as it spread throughout the camp late Tuesday afternoon.
Originally from Ontario, Kevin Lear has been homeless since February and has lived at tent city for the last four months. It’s become a place he considers home and doesn’t want to leave until he finds affordable, not supportive housing.
“That judge can kiss my ass,” said Lear, who suspects there will likely be a protest when people have to move from the site. “I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere. It’s a great community. Everybody is nice. We have each other’s backs.”
Christine Brett doesn’t permanently live at tent city, but has spent much time there, advocating for the rights of the campers since December. Brett was surprised by the judge’s decision but said it’s amazing for the 140 people who will be able to move into housing. She wonders what will happen to the rest of the homeless living on city streets.
“It doesn’t take away from that fact that there’s still 1,400 homeless that were counted,” she said, adding she also won’t be leaving despite the ruling. “There have been people identified who would like a sober house, not a low barrier place. Those options haven’t been made available. There’s just not a solution that is for everyone.”
Residents living in the vicinity of tent city are happy the situation is coming to a close.
Stephen Hammond, who lives in the neighourhood and is the organizer of Mad as Hell, a group that opposes tent city, is pleased with the judge’s decision, but noted the province’s “knee jerk” reaction could have consequences down the road.
“We’re excited it’s going to be gone. We’re excited people who are the most vulerable are going to get housing,” Hammond said, adding he expects people will dwindle away over the next few weeks.
“But we’re not excited about how it happened and we’re not excited about the fact that they’re (homeless people) ending up the way they’re ending up which is lumped altogether. Are these the best places to house people? Is it a good idea to house 140 people who are completely vulernable like this in one place?”
Read the full judgement here: