Responding to Tent Cities

Delegates in a session Monday heard how provincial and local government partnership played a critical role in the management of and response to Victoria’s now disbanded tent city.

Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development and Minister Responsible for Housing and Deputy Premier, described how the Province’s rapid rollout of new supportive housing units was facilitated by the City of Victoria’s commitment to gaining social license for the facilities.

“We need partners, and we had a good partner in Victoria,” said Coleman. “I empathize with local government, because you always have to deal with people that want housing in someone else’s neighbourhood. We can put money on the table, but we need you to find the land and zone it – it can be a challenge.”

According to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, the City “took the heat” for the Province’s purchase of transitional housing next to schools. Helps advised delegates that in order for supportive housing to be accepted by the surrounding neighbourhood, its operating model should take into account the needs of local residents. Helps indicated that one of the unintended outcomes of Victoria’s tent city was a much closer working relationship between the City, Victoria Police Department and the Province.

Helps also referenced the need for the federal government to deliver on a fully funded national housing strategy. Federal funding for social housing “dropped off a cliff in the mid-90’s”, said Helps.

James Yardley, a lawyer with Murdy & McAllister shared some conclusions that can be drawn from the case law on homelessness on public lands. Yardley emphasized that the specific evidence in a case is crucial to determining its outcome. The “threshold question” in any case concerning a homeless encampment on public lands will likely be whether there are sufficient alternatives available to the occupants.

Yardley also noted that while the courts do not seem to be adverse to the notion of temporary tent camps on public lands in instances where there has been a breach under Section 7 of the Charter, they are mindful of impacts of the camps, both on the occupants of the camps and the community at large.

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