A silver lining to Victoria’s tent city

Many of us concerned about the crisis of homelessness have watched with interest as homeless people in Victoria started living on the lawn in front of the courthouse last year. As their numbers grew, so did the pressure on the provincial government to offer meaningful solutions — not just overnight shelters but real accommodations.

Victoria's tent city has forced the provincial government to start addressing homelessness in a meaningful way.

Victoria’s tent city has forced the provincial government to start addressing homelessness in a meaningful way. Image Murray Bush – Flux Photo

In April, the provincial government went to court to get an injunction removing these homeless individuals from the courthouse lawn. But the homeless folks were represented by legal counsel who presented very credible evidence that an injunction would place the people in grave danger given the fact they literally had nowhere to go. The court accepted this argument, and therefore rejected the province’s injunction application.

The court’s decision created an earthquake — the provincial government had finally been exposed!

The good news here is that decision resulted in the provincial government finally deciding to allocate significant funds to address at least some of the need for low income housing in Victoria. They purchased a former facility for seniors, which should provide about 140 units of housing, enough for those on the courthouse lawn. (By comparison, the latest count in Victoria, one done in 2014, showed about 1,200 visibly homeless people.)

The province went back to court a second time, and the court released its decision the other day, this time ordering the tent city dispersed. But the judge also ordered that any such dispersion not take effect until the new housing facility was up and running.

What we have witnessed in Victoria is a victory for those fighting for a home for all. It’s also proof that sometimes the best way to get results is to put pressure where pressure belongs. I have no doubts that the provincial government would never have responded but for the creation of the tent city.

Victoria’s Tent City. Photo Murray Bush – Flux Photo

My congratulations to all of the homeless individuals and their advocates who, despite the challenges, managed to achieve this decisive victory over one of the most heartless provincial governments ever.

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