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Tomorrow, in Victoria's Supreme Court, the Province of B.C. is seeking an injunction to forcibly remove the remaining residents of Super InTent City.
Last spring, there were a handful of tenters on the provincial courthouse property, but now the tent community has grown to over 100 people who have a sense of pride and belonging. In fact, when the tenters were served with an eviction notice telling them to leave by February 25, they instead stayed and threw a block party.
"For homeless people one of the things, one of the biggest joys I heard in the very beginning, was women laughing in their tent when they woke up. Now how long ago were those women able to do that, being homeless on the streets? It's so bitter and hard there," said Tsastilqualus, an Indigenous women who also goes by Donna, who has lived in the tent city for a few months. "Here we have a real community. We do not want to be dispersed all over the place in Victoria. Our goal is to remain as a family."
While the province has attempted to establish alternative shelter solutions for those living in the tent city, many of these options fall short of much-needed, permanent housing.
"I think [the shelters] are better than having to sleep outdoors, but they fall short of being proper long-term housing with supports," said Victoria City Councillor Ben Isitt. "They're no substitute for proper apartments, which is what we have to stay focused on."
Isitt, who is supportive of the campers, says he is in the minority of Victoria City Council. He advocates for finding a long-term solution that provides a permanent place for people to camp instead of forcing the tenters to disburse back into municipal parks.
"For a number of reasons I think that the province's application for an injunction is problematic and that we either need to be providing supports at this encampment or looking at an alternate site for a designated sheltering area in the city," he said.
Stephan Portman, Advocacy Lead at Together Against Poverty Society also expressed frustration with the province's injunction application.
"I think it's the exact opposite of how decision makers and people involved in public policy should approach mental health and homelessness in Victoria," he said. "I'm deeply disappointed to see that the province is moving forward with an injunction in the first place. I think it's exactly what not to do."
Portman explained that the province has offered three sheltering solutions to address Super InTent City. The first, My Place Transitional Home, allows 40 people to sleep in tents in a gymnasium. However, this facility will be closing at the end of April with no alternative options. Furthermore, while the residents were given a rent subsidy to find their own housing, it still falls short of what they need.
"The vacancy rate in Victoria is 0.6 per cent," said Portman. "Frankly, my friends who have good paying jobs, who have a clean record, who don't have a criminal record, we're having difficulty getting housed."
The next option is Mount Edwards which provides 38 units, meant to be set aside specifically for individuals transitioning from the tent city. However, in 31 of these units the residents were not previously living in tent city and only three transitioned directly from the courthouse site.
Finally, Choices Transitional Home is located in an old youth correctional facility. While the units here are currently only half full, Portman says its location makes it difficult for residents to access support services.
Ultimately, however, Portman says the lack of dialogue with residents of these facilities is particularly problematic.
"Where we fail in providing sheltering solutions to chronically under-housed people is by placing them into a shelter system that presents rules and regulations that defy people's ability to live their lives the way that they want to," he said. "You have to have some rules, for sure, but in order to do that in a way that's effective that services the population you're trying to house, you have to bring those people into the conversation to develop how that shelter is run."
Joseph Reville, who set up camp in Super InTent City last November, is also critical of the shelter options and echoes Tsastilqualus' sentiment saying that the residents have established a sense of community "from the ground up." Even so, he says the province, including Housing Minister Rich Coleman, hasn't made an effort to consult this established community in its plans moving forward.
"Rich Coleman hasn't done anything to offer housing to anybody. Rich Coleman has offered three temporary shelter solutions. They're not housing solutions," he said. "We've invited the province into this conversation repeatedly and they haven't joined that conversation and so I have no confidence in this government at this moment."
Update: A previous version of this article stated the court date was Thursday March 10. The court date is officially scheduled for Friday March 11 according to B.C. Supreme Court Scheduling Office.
With files from Michael Stewart.
rabble reached out to Rich Coleman for comment but has not received a response by time of publication.
Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen's University and is excited by media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen's News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer. She is now rabble's News Intern.
Photo: flickr/ Mike Gabelmann