Standing in the crowd of the so-called Super In Tent City, it’s hard to ignore the sense of community that’s been building for the past seven months.
Dozens of new and old tents have been set up, some with wooden boards to raise tents above the ground and others covered in tarps. Each of the roughly 80 campers living there have established their own space to call home outside the Victoria courthouse.
Last Thursday, the camp was buzzing with excitement as hundreds of people gathered in the heart of tent city to protest the provincial government’s Feb. 25 eviction notice.
Roughly 45 people from tent cities in Abbotsford and Vancouver were bussed in to show their support.
Supporters held signs reading “everyone deserves a home” and “housing is a human right.” They chanted “House us, don’t hide us, build homes now” in unison, sending the message loud and clear to the government — campers are there to stay.
The campers have been living on the provincially-owned land on Burdett Avenue since the fall when they discovered a loophole that allowed them to stay, instead of camping in parks where city bylaws only allow people to camp from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The government has announced a number of temporary housing options for the campers until more permanent solutions are made available.
Eighty-eight spaces at two shelters have been opened — 50 spaces at the former Victoria Youth Custody Centre in View Royal, operated by Our Place Society for the next six months, and 38 spaces at Mount Edwards Court on Vancouver Street, operated by the Victoria Cool Aid Society, for the next 12 months.
The spaces are in addition to another temporary shelter at the former Boys and Girls Club on Yates Street, which opened earlier this year and houses 44 people.
“We’ve got enough housing for everybody down there, so they don’t have any excuse to not come inside, but we also live in a free country and they don’t have to come inside,” said Housing Minister Rich Coleman.
“They have a place to go, it’s warm, it’s clean, it’s stable, three meals a day and we’ll bring in supports to help with addictions and those sorts of things.”
Despite being served an eviction notice, a majority of campers have remained past the deadline, saying the housing options are flawed.
Campers said they’ve formed a mini-community — an experimental micro-housing project and one they don’t intend on disbanding.
“My community is here. We help each other. We get along quite well. We really do take care of each other better than anyone else I’ve ever seen in this city,” said Ana, who came to live at tent city in November after living on and off the streets for the past seven years.
“We’re all inclusive and tolerant. We’ve all experienced the worst of the things out there and we know that we’re all safe together.”
Crystal, also a tent city resident, said she’s found solace within the community they’ve formed.
“We have a group of citizens here that now are together and by being together, they’ve been able to help heal each other,” she said.
The campers hope the provincial government will consider other options to help house the city’s homeless.