A group of homeless people camping outside Victoria’s courthouse were put on relocation notice Monday after lawyers and a British Columbia Supreme Court judge discussed eventually shutting down the tent city.
Lawyers for the provincial government and homeless campers talked about 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 people living there.
Catherine Boies Parker, the lawyer representing the homeless residents, said the campers need at least two weeks to find and register people who will move into government housing.
“I suppose there’s a middle road,” said Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson, who indicated he was considering an order shutting down the camp as early as this week.
The B.C. government returned to court for a second time this year seeking an interim injunction to evict more than 100 people who have been living in tents on the courthouse lawn since the fall.
Milman told the court that fire, crime and sanitary conditions at the camp have deteriorated since March when the province originally applied for an injunction, which 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 person in the camp by Aug. 8, Milman told the court.
Hinkson said reports of gang members living at the camp and dealing drugs are signs the environment has changed.
“That’s a significant change from March,” he said.
Victoria council granted police extra funds to increase patrols at the camp after reports of increased violence and gang presence at the camp.
Hinkson said the presence of rats at the camp are indications of maintenance issues.
“I understand there weren’t rats in March,” he said. “There’s rats now. Rats don’t come to a place that is well maintained.”
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 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 has said.
The former seniors 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 permanent housing.