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article imageVictoria's homeless situation grows as tent city gets larger

By Karen Graham     Dec 12, 2015 in World
Victoria - B.C. Premier Christy Clark has already publicly said the homeless camped out on the lawn next to the Victoria Law Courts are going to have to leave if they refuse to accept the offer of housing from the province.
There are around 80 people living on provincial land next to the Victoria courthouse this weekend. But they are getting worried as a series of wind and pummeling rain storms have swept through British Columbia.
One of the homeless campers is Fred Walker. CBC News Canada talked to him while he was trying to repair his tent. "It's been horrible. It's been absolutely horrible," Walker said. "The wind damaged the stitching, causing it to leak."
When asked why he was camping on the courthouse lawn, Walker explained that he receives a disability payment of $375 a month, but has not been able to find a place to live. He hopes a rent subsidy will come through soon to help him in searching for a home.
While not having enough money to rent much of anything, there is also the problem with sanitation at the impromptu camp. Reverend Al Tysick with the Dandelion Society says three portable toilets were dropped off at the camp a few weeks ago, but more needs to be done.
Tysick comes around every day to check on the campers. "It's just not enough. Those three either (portable toilets) have to be cleaned more or we have to put in more porta-potties for the number of people who are there," said Tysick.
The province is still working on a plan to open an around-the-clock shelter that will also provide meals and health services, and Premier Christy Clark is trying to find temporary shelters to get people out of the tent cities around the province. Even if the shelter being planned were to open next week, it would only house 40 people.
Grant McKenzie, a homeless advocate with the outreach society Our Place says finding a staff to man the shelter 24-hours a day will be needed, but the most difficult problem will be finding a location that neighbors won't complain about.
But regardless of if a shelter gets built, or not, Christy said this week that if a temporary shelter is found for the homeless, and they refuse to accept the offer, they will not be allowed to continue camping on the courthouse lawn.
Walker is worried that if shelter space is offered and used, any real efforts at finding housing for the homeless will be forgotten. "The government is embarrassed. They don't want people seeing this," he said. "They just want to warehouse us and push us away."
The numbers behind poverty and Canada's homeless
The 2005 Canadian census put the number of people at "risk of being homeless" at 702,600. This was based on people spending 50 percent or more of their income on housing. Add to this the lack of affordable housing and the problem of "hidden" homelessness becomes apparent. The hidden homeless spend all their time between being without a home and being on the streets.
Jen Wilde, the coordinator for the extreme weather shelter program in Greater Victoria says adding more shelter space is not the answer. "If there's going to be any energy and resources put into anything in the immediate future, it should be put into that next level support, transitional housing."
Looking at the bigger picture, without affordable housing, people with little income, or those on social or disability income will never be able to afford to live in a real home, and that is what they want.
Joseph Reville, also a homeless camper says, "I'm not too excited about the shelter idea," he said. "I'd like to see that money go towards getting some of the homeless off the street. There are a lot of us who do actually want to get housing."
More about victoria homeless, premier christy clark, Tent city, disability and assistance, cost of living
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