VICTORIA — British Columbia’s housing minister says he’s hoping people living at a homeless camp in Victoria will choose to leave peacefully now that more accommodation will soon be available for them.
Rich Coleman said police may have to move in with an enforcement order to evict people from the grounds of the courthouse if the government succeeds in its second attempt to secure a court injunction.
He announced Wednesday that the government has bought a former seniors care facility in downtown Victoria with plans to turn it into 140 housing units with their own bathrooms and a communal kitchen for the homeless.
The $11.2 million purchase comes as the province heads back to B.C. Supreme Court later this month to try and evict 80 to 100 people now living at the a so-called tent city that sprang up last year.
“Our hope would be, quite frankly, since we’ve made this significant investment and have housing available for folks, that they would voluntarily move along and this would come to a peaceful and happy end for everybody,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
“Those who choose not to move and those who aren’t homeless and are there for a different reason would see the most impact,” he said, adding some people are at the camp merely to protest.
Some homeless people in B.C. have come from other provinces “because our economy’s doing so well,” forcing the government to find more housing units to accommodate people, Coleman said.
Besides potential safety issues identified by the fire department, public safety and criminality are also concerns at the camp where many vulnerable people are living in erected structures and tarp-covered tents, Coleman said.
The former care facility is expected be ready for tenants next month and will include programs for people dealing with drug and alcohol addictions or mental health issues, he said.
“In the marketplace, if I would try and build this it would cost me in excess of $200,000 to $250,000 a unit. Our per-unit cost, if you take out the value of the commercial kitchen and all of that, is well under $80,000 per unit.”
Coleman said the government will work with area residents to ensure any concerns are dealt with before people start moving in.
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, community centre and seniors care facility, he said.
In April, the chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court refused to grant the province an interim injunction to evict the campers, ruling the government did not prove it would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction wasn’t granted.
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