A recent court ruling, refusing to let the province move people off Victoria’s courthouse property, could make it tougher for Maple Ridge if another camp surfaces on city streets.
“It’s getting harder and harder to get an injunction,” said Mayor Nicole Read.
“Absolutely,” it will be harder to clear a camp if another one forms, she added. “What are we going to do?”
On April 5, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Hinkson denied an injunction to allow the provincial government to clear the homeless camp from the grounds of the Victoria courthouse.
The campers “simply have nowhere to move to,” Hinkson said in his ruling.
He added that the only place for campers are homeless shelters, which can’t meet the needs of many. Moving campers could also create a constant disruption and result in a “relentless series of daily moves to the streets, doorways and parks of the City of Victoria.”
Hinkson also noted that allowing the government to clear out its property would just push the problem, at greater cost, to the City of Victoria.
“I am not prepared to displace one’s expenses to impose them on the other.”
The justice also cited the deplorable conditions of shelters, “where large groups of high-needs individuals are crowded together with minimal support,” as another reason people shouldn’t be forced to go.
Read said that when Maple Ridge cleared the Cliff Avenue tent camp in October, the city did so with the old mattress shop at 22239 Lougheed Hwy. being available as temporary beds, to be followed by the offer of permanent, supportive housing.
“We had voluntary decampment. That’s almost unheard of in the province,” Read said.
She wants the province to honour that commitment to the remaining 30 people now in the temporary shelter and is waiting to hear B.C. Housing’s proposal after the housing agency backed away, after public outcry, from converting the Quality Inn to supportive housing.
“My expectation is that they’re being connected to housing,” Read said.
“These people need housing. By June, they’ll have been in the shelter nine months.”
And if people are not found housing locally, there’s a chance they could end up back on the street.
“The courts are really starting to hold the province’s feet to the fire,” Read added.
Former Maple Ridge councillor Mike Morden, who led the opposition to converting the Quality Inn to supportive housing, said the government has to respect the ruling.
Immediate measures must now be taken to address the 30 or so people remaining in the temporary homeless shelter.
“They’re going to have to provide something [housing] temporary or we’ll end up with people camping,” Morden added.
“It’s a social obligation to provide this.”
Morden said the memorandum of understanding that sets out how a new housing complex will operate will be key. A new facility has to be more than just housing and include a full scope of treatment. He objects, however, to allowing drug use inside.
According to NDP housing critic David Eby, the ruling has implications for Maple Ridge and other B.C. cities.
It’s also the third ruling in B.C. that allows people to camp in cities if there are no other housing options.
“It’s not a safe place,” he said of the camp on the courthouse grounds, “and it’s not a solution. The court held that it’s just less worse than anywhere else right now.”
Read initially didn’t want the homeless on Cliff Avenue to be sent to the Maple Ridge Salvation Army emergency shelter because she said it wasn’t connecting people to long-term housing and they were just ending back up on the street.
“It can’t be a revolving door,” she said.
Efforts need to be made to move people through levels of care so they can progress.
“When you’re the only shelter in the community, you have to be connected to the people on the street.”
The Salvation Army, however, maintains it does find people permanent housing.