Every day, twice a day, Al Tysick is at Victoria’s tent city, listening to the camper’s concerns and assisting in whatever way possible.
For many residents, the 69-year-old who’ll be celebrating his 70th birthday on Friday, is like a father. But now his days at the homeless camp on the lawns of the Victoria courthouse are numbered as the province gets ready to shut it down next month and move residents into various forms of housing.
So far, Tysick estimates 25 people have recently moved out of the camp, but 65 are still there, waiting for their turn to leave. The majority, he said, are happy to be moving on, but some won’t go without a fight.
“There’s going to be some that stay and resist. There always is,” said Tysick, executive director of the Dandelion Society, which advocates for some of Victoria’s most difficult to house. “Much more housing has come to the city, which we desperately needed, but some wanted a place just to camp and they didn’t get that….Some people will have to be forced to leave, but it won’t certainly be the majority of people.”
Earlier this month, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson ordered the camp be shut down by Aug. 8, after he deemed it unsafe for residents, nearby neighbours and businesses.
The province’s first application for an injunction to remove the campers last spring was denied on the grounds there wasn’t anywhere else for them to go.
Since then, the province has committed to opening a number of facilities to help house the campers.
Last month, it purchased the former Super 8 Hotel on Douglas Street to house 51 people and the former Central Care Home building on Johnson Street, which will provide more than 140 additional housing units. Another three buildings have been transformed into transitional housing and shelter space since the beginning of the year.
Earlier this week, the province placed a fence around the camp in order to prevent more people from moving in. Residents moving into the new housing must provide photo ID or agree to be photographed and identify which tents and objects belong to them.
Tysick is thankful for the support tent city residents have received thus far, but he believes once the camp finally does close, some people will go back to sleeping in city parks, where they’ll be woken by police every morning and told to leave in order to comply with bylaws that only allow sheltering between certain times.
The city, however, recently banned overnight sheltering in Haegert, Kings, Cridge and Arbutus parks following years of ongoing concerns from neighbours about the campers. Mary, who did not want to publish her last name, has lived next door to Kings Park for several years and became scared to go into her backyard.
During the summer months, between 12 to 14 tents were regularly set up in the tiny park, located on Caledonia Avenue between Cook and Chambers Streets. Last summer, neighbours had a spill over of people sleeping, injecting and defecating on private property or rummaging through garbage bins and blue boxes, searching for cash-convertible items. Some evenings were filled with drug deals, yelling, screaming, threats of bodily harm, exacerbated by drinking or someone having a mental melt down.
The bulk of the problems disappeared when tent city sprung to life, but Mary still sees drug users in the park and noticed a few people recently spent the night in sleeping bags.
Now that the tents have disappeared, Fernwood residents have started to return to Kings Park, but Mary isn’t holding her breath the problems will ever go away, especially once tent city is shut down.
“I am sure they will try (to return) because a certain percentage of them will not want to be indoors,” she said. “I was hugely happy when they all moved. We had three years of craziness here. I was really disgusted that I had to deal with this. It’s been going on for years and years up here and nobody cared.”
On Tuesday, B.C. Housing will be holding a public information session on supportive housing units at the former Central Care Home. Representatives from the city, police, B.C. Housing and health authority will be on hand to answer questions. The session takes place at the Victoria Conference Centre from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.