VICTORIA — Homeless campers on the grounds of Victoria’s courthouse staged a block party Thursday as they faced eviction from a tent city where more than 100 people have lived for months.
The party got off to a rough start as police cars arrived with sirens blaring to investigate a disturbance at one of the tents at the camp.
Police were not commenting about an alleged assault.
The B.C. government gave campers a Feb. 25 deadline earlier this month to move, but police and the province say they’d prefer people to leave voluntarily for shelters as opposed to a forced eviction.
Housing Minister Rich Coleman said campers were packing up for shelters that the province has provided and that the situation at the camp will be monitored over the coming days.
“There’s about 50 people who’ve accepted housing, so they’ll be moving off and we’ll measure it over the weekend to see how it’s going,” he said.
“We’ve got enough housing for everybody down there, so they don’t have an excuse to not come inside but they also live in a free country, so they don’t have to come inside.”
In recent weeks, the government and social agencies have reached deals on housing for up to 230 people, with shelter space at a former Boys and Girls Club, a seniors’ residence and a vacant youth custody facility.
The camp grew from a few tents last spring to dozens as people from alleyways and parks moved to the highly visible manicured grounds of the downtown courthouse.
On Thursday, a placard outside the camp advertised a block party featuring guest speakers and people from other homeless camps in B.C.
Coleman said he’s most concerned about helping the campers get housing and providing support services for people suffering from addictions and mental health, not provoking encounters with protesters.
“Whatever they want to do, block party or whatever. It makes no difference here because the only people I’m concerned about are the people who need help the most.”
Dirk Meissner , The Canadian Press
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