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Premier says courthouse campers will be offered housing

Premier Christy Clark says homeless people camped on the lawn beside the Victoria Law Courts will eventually be asked to leave if they refuse to accept the province’s offer of housing.

Clark offered no timeline for dealing with the burgeoning tent city at the corner of Burdett Avenue and Quadra Street. But she said Housing Minister Rich Coleman has dealt with similar issues in other communities and has a “good program” for resolving them.

“The first thing we’re doing is identifying housing for every single one of those people and offering it to them,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

“I mean, I think that’s what people would like us to do, right? These people need housing; we will work with each of them as individuals to find housing.”

But she made clear that there is a limit to the government’s patience. “If some of them decide after that, that they don’t want the housing, they’re going to be required to leave,” she said. “Because this is public land; it belongs to the citizens of the province.”

The province announced last week that it will provide about $380,000 for a new 40-bed temporary shelter. It has yet to name a location, but said discussions are taking place with a potential operator of the shelter, which would provide meals and other support.

Stephen Portman of Together Against Poverty Society questioned what Clark means by finding “housing” for the campers occupying an estimated 55 tents.

He said since the city’s shelters are full, if a new 24-7 facility was opened, many campers would likely take the option, but that’s only a short-term solution.

“That offer of a home better be a viable one and not just a shelter or a rent supplement, which is all that we’ve heard so far,” he said. “A home is not a shelter. A home is not a rent supplement.”

Noting the Victoria vacancy rate is well under one per cent, Portman said even people with jobs and $40,000 annual incomes are struggling to find affordable housing.

“The average bachelor [apartment] in Victoria rents for $716,” he said, while the shelter rate for B.C.’s disabled citizens and those on income assistance has been frozen since 2008 at $375 per month. “That has caused homelessness,” Portman said.

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