When a supreme court judge recently denied the province’s application for an injunction to evict campers from the lawns of the Victoria courthouse, Mayor Lisa Helps was left wondering, what now?
She immediately got on the phone with officials from the province to figure out a plan. Now the province has stepped up to manage the site with the help of Vancouver’s Portland Hotel Society (PHS) — a non-profit group that manages a variety of housing, programs and services.
Staff will be at tent city on a 24-7 basis to help manage the site and connect campers with housing, health and other services they need. Helps believes it’ll make a significant difference.
“We’ll start seeing changes on that site to the benefit of the surrounding neighbourhood and the people living on the site,” said Helps, noting there will be rules to address health and safety concerns.
“(People are mad) ultimately because there aren’t the mental health and addictions services available, which is having a negative impact on everyone. The society has lots of experience connecting people with those kinds of challenges.”
A number of people continue to live on the lawns of the courthouse, even though the province (which owns the property) has told them to leave due to health and safety concerns. A fire inspector went to the site in February and identified a number of hazards, such as the space between tents, open burning and the use of candles and flames.
Those living nearby are fed up with the campers and claim there’s been an increase in crime. Some residents have found needles on their property and often hear yelling and screaming throughout the night.
After meeting with representatives from PHS, tent city residents insist on managing the site themselves and want the province to divert its resources to the homeless problem.
The matter will be back in court Sept. 7 for trial. However, if circumstances degenerate before then, the province will be able to renew its application for an injunction.