As the tent city continues to thrive across the street from her apartment building, Laurie Allen has had never-ending problems.
According to Allen, some of the campers plug their extension chords into the outside of the building, stealing electricity to charge their phones. One person left human feces on the rocks beside the plug and items like her husband’s smoker and bikes have suddenly gone missing.
There’s often a fire at the camp, blowing smoke into the windows of tenants, along with screaming and fighting at all hours of the night. One time there was a stabbing and a death from a drug overdose.
Recently, one of Allen’s tenants heard someone trying to break into their suite through a window. Others have been yelled at and harassed by some of the people camping across the street.
Allen is at the end of her rope.
“It’s disgusting…My husband went out for a cigarette the other night and they swore at him to get back in. You can’t even go out your door. One woman was chased down the street,” said Allen, who’s lived at the location for seventeen-and-a-half years.
“I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had to phone the police until this year. I even quit phoning them because the cops don’t come because they have no authority.”
The first few campers showed up on the green space of the law courts last spring, then the property exploded into a full fledged tent city about two months ago. The space is owned by the province therefore police need a request to remove campers like they do from city parks that only allow sheltering between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.
With no police forcing campers to pack up and move every morning, it’s estimated more than 80 people are now living on the space that’s covered with tents and random items. One person has constructed a platform complete with stairs so their tent can be off the ground.
A temporary shelter for the campers opened last week at the former Boys and Girls Club building on Yates Street, but it only has the capacity to house 40 campers until the end of April.
Allen has sent emails about the campers to B.C. Premier Christy Clark and the minister responsible for housing, but has yet to receive a response. She’s also had discussions with sheriffs at the courthouse, only to be told their hands are tied.
“You’re just nothing to them (politicians),” she said. “They (campers) need to be taken care of. I am totally for that, but nobody is getting taken care of here.”
Representatives from the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services spoke with the campers last Wednesday and requested they work with on-site outreach workers to make arrangements for alternate shelter.
“The ministry views this as an important step towards returning the grounds to their original condition and will give the campers reasonable time to move,” said the ministry in a written statement. “While the ministry appreciates the complex issues facing campers at the site, a growing number of campers over the past month has created an increasing number of health and safety concerns; making the courthouse property not a viable location for campers.”
The campers held a news conference on Monday, speaking out against the potential displacement of the tent city and the suggestion for people to access temporary support services in the absence of affordable and appropriate housing.
“Even if there are 40 people who want to move to the temporary shelter for four months, that leaves 80 or more people here who cannot access the indoor shelter,” said tent city resident Joseph J. Reville. “Super In Tent City is self-organized, self-determined and self-sustainable. We are building a community and the province is defending a structure and using it as an excuse to break up the camp.”
In the meantime, frustrations continue to mount amongst those living in the area. Mel Wright can’t help but feel like the rights of residents are being ignored.
“We are just not getting any help from anybody,” said Wright. “It just makes me sick to my stomach. The bleeding hearts there are dropping off the doughnuts and coffee, they’re quite happy to leave them in my neighbourhood. The people that support this, if they are willing to give me the address of where they live, I will hand our leaflets that they (the campers) are welcome in their neighbourhood.”