VICTORIA – A group of homeless camping outside Victoria’s court house will need to find another home after lawyers and a British Columbia Supreme Court judge began negotiating Monday to shut down the tent city.
Lawyers for the provincial government and homeless campers openly discussed the timing of the camp’s closure during a hearing into an injunction application.
Crown lawyer Warren Milman told the court that an immediate injunction is necessary because of fire hazards at the site. He called for a phased-in removal of the homeless.
Catherine Boies Parker, the lawyer representing the homeless residents, said the campers need at least two weeks to move out.
“I suppose there’s a middle road,” said Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson, who said he was considering a shutdown order for as early as this week.
The B.C. government returned to court for a second time this year seeking an interim injunction to start evicting the more than 100 people who have been living in tents on the courthouse lawn since last fall.
Milman told the court that fire, crime and sanitary conditions at the camp outside the courthouse have deteriorated since March when the province originally applied for a court injunction to shut it down. That injunction was denied on the grounds that the government did not prove it will suffer irreparable harm if an interim injunction to remove the camp was not granted.
Milman said the fire dangers include crowded pathways, tarp-covered tents and the storage of combustible materials.
“Far from having made progress, there’s been movement in the opposite direction,” said Milman. “Things have gotten worse, not better.”
He said the government is concerned about fire dangers and is prepared to accept a phased dismantling of the camp once the fire dangers are removed.
The government will have housing ready for every camper by Aug. 8, Milman told the court.
Housing Minister Rich Coleman recently announced that the provincial government purchased a former seniors care facility in downtown Victoria for $11.2 million with plans to turn it into 140 housing units with their own bathrooms and a communal kitchen for the homeless.
The former care facility is expected to include programs for people dealing with drug and alcohol addictions or mental health issues, he said.
“It sounds like a good idea,” Boies Parker told the court.
But she said the campers need more time to register people for the permanent housing being made available.
The province has already provided more than 190 spaces for Victoria’s homeless since last October, including shelter and living units at a former youth jail, a community centre and a seniors care facility, Coleman said.
The two-day court hearing comes as Canada’s housing ministers meet in Victoria this week to discuss issues involving affordability and homelessness.
Those advocating for the homeless from across Canada attended a news conference at the Victoria camp to offer support for the residents and call for a nationwide strategy to end homelessness.
Victoria’s Together Against Poverty Society spokesman Stephen Portman said it’s important for Canada to engage in a national dialogue on ending homelessness.
“It’s not OK in Victoria and it’s not OK anywhere in Canada,” he said.