One man beats on a drum, while another waves eaqgle feathers

Lawyer makes case for keeping Prince George homeless camps in place

By Mark Nielsen, Prince George Citizen Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The homeless living in a so-called tent cities will have no viable place to go if the court grants an order to remove them, the lawyer representing the group says in documents filed at the courthouse.

Very few of the roughly 81 emergency shelter beds in the city are low barrier making many of Prince George’s homeless ineligible to stay in them, lawyer Darlene Kavka says in responses to an application from city hall seeking an order to authorize occupants’ removal from sites at 538 Patricia Boulevard and 231-233 George Street.

“Active drug addiction, no identification, no ability to meet application requirements and no records make successful applications a rare exception for the homeless in downtown Prince George,” Kavka says.

Consequently, Kavka says dozens of people have “nowhere to shelter themselves except outside.” 

Kavka cites a handful of benefits to keeping the camps in place – from making it easier for service providers, including health care providers, to find their clients to reduced risk related to drug use as occupants can keep a closer eye on each other, to a lower need for the campers to carry their possessions with them out of fear of having them stolen.

“They are less likely to use coping mechanisms such as drug use to keep themselves awake at night for fear of falling asleep and being victim of violence or theft,” Kavka says. “They are less likely to isolate themselves in remote locations to avoid detection. Many of them attain a sense of purpose, belonging and community that they have not felt for many years if ever before.”

Kavka says city hall has been unable to attribute any increase in crime to those living in the camps and that city hall does not claim to have an immediate use for the sites.

“The properties are unused, vacant lots,” Kavka says. “The Tent Cities are not interfering with any ordinary use of the land.”

City hall filed its application in late August, claiming the camps have led to an increase in crime and nuisance in general.

“Local businesses and residents have complained of increased theft, shoplifiting, drug use, prostitution, discarded needles, loitering, urinating, defecating and other behaviours coming from the Respondents at the Tent City,” lawyer Troy DeSouza says in the application.

The defendants’ responses were filed on Sept. 22 and 23. On Monday, the provincial government said a downtown motel, Knights Inn at 650 Dominion St. downtown, directly across from the new Four Seasons Pool, will be leased for two years to provide 44 units of supportive housing.

Prince George Native Friendship Centre will be the operator and the first of the residents are expected to move in at the start of November.

A hearing on the application is scheduled for two days at the Prince George courthouse starting Wednesday. Originally scheduled for mid-September, it was adjourned to give the defendants time to secure legal counsel.

Meanwhile, a rally against the City’s legal action was held in front of the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.

Top photo credit: Two of about 35 people who attended a rally Tuesday opposing legal action by the City to close down two homeless camps in Prince George. Photo by Mark Nielsen.

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