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Homeless camps in Victoria to be clear by end of day, province says

B.C. government declares victory after rehousing tent city campers
The B.C. government says the majority of the people who had been living in three notorious tent cities have now been provided more secure living arrangements. Nadia Stewart reports.

A pair of tent cities in Victoria were expected to be cleared out by the end of the day, after the province said it found accommodation for more than 300 homeless campers.

Social Development Minister Shane Simpson gave an update on Wednesday on B.C.’s plan to provide temporary housing to tent city residents living along Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

He said 308 campers have been moved to privacy pods at Save-on-Foods Arena and to the Comfort Inn hotel, which the province recently purchased, and provided with support services.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Makeshift homeless shelter to open at Victoria hockey arena

The province will also arrange housing for the additional 30 people who arrived at the Victoria camps since BC Housing staff started the transfer on April 25, Simpson said.

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The Pandora site has grown over the last few weeks, first in front of the Our Place shelter and quickly expanding to nearly four blocks of green space along the road.

When asked about residents who refuse to leave the camps, Simpson said the hope is everyone will leave the area by the end of the day, without mentioning possible police enforcement.

Victoria arena turned into homeless shelter
Victoria arena turned into homeless shelter

“There is a small number of people who have simply said they are not going to go inside. That is their choice. We are not going to force anyone to go inside,” he said.

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“What we are doing for those people is provide them information. We are telling them they need to leave the site. Our expectation is that will occur.”

READ MORE: Port authority seeks to oust homeless campers from Vancouver’s CRAB Park

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The municipality will take over the Pandora and Topaz sites and be in charge of removing any remaining tents and personal belongings.

Campers at the controversial Oppenheimer Park on Vancouver’s Downtown Seaside were also moved into temporary hotel housing.

The B.C. government and advocates for homeless people are at odds over whether moving hundreds of people into temporary housing amid the pandemic has been successful.

Last week, Pivot Legal Society sent a letter to the government outlining concerns about the province’s approach, including increased risk of overdoses.

“Why are we doing this process at the threat of enforcement and eviction?” asked staff lawyer Anna Cooper, who helped write the letter.

She said the province has failed to address concerns raised by residents and health professionals.

Residents of temporary housing are not protected under B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Act, and some who have moved have not disclosed their substance use because they fear eviction, said Cooper.

That puts them at greater risk of overdose, she said, especially since harm-reduction services are not readily available in all of the emergency housing spaces.

But Simpson said he’s confident the process has been successful and compassionate.

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“It’s been done with the ultimate consideration of the campers and of their interests and very much their desire,” he said.

-With files from The Canadian Press