They've been called skids, junkies, criminals—you name it, and Victoria's tent city campers have heard it. Jaime Green, a resident of the homeless camp on Victoria's courthouse lawn for eight months, says she dealt with the insults by trying to make herself smaller, more invisible.
"I was more introverted at tent city, but that's not my natural way," she told VICE.
Today Green says she's feeling more like herself, now that she's settling into a new home in a social housing project the BC government agreed to fund in June—one of three buildings the province has bought since the camp started last fall. The move marks a near-end to a divisive chapter of Victoria's housing debate, as the court-ordered deadline to dismantle the homeless camp arrived yesterday. Though a handful of campers stayed at the site another night, most, like Green, have leapt at the opportunity to move indoors.
When VICE last checked in with Green back in May, she and her partner Mark were still on waiting lists for low-income housing. Green had been living on the streets for two and a half years, camping in parks and avoiding temporary shelters that wouldn't allow couples. This week both of them moved across the hall from each other in a former seniors' care facility, along with dozens of other former campers. "Every time I go in the hallways I see more people I recognize from tent city," she said.
Now Green is finally finding time to decompress, and take advantage of having a roof over her head. "Just the security of it—having a solid door, knowing I don't have to carry around or stash or worry about anything while I'm away from home—that's been such a weight off."
The BC government says it has housed or found shelter for 260 people since the camp started last fall—a fact Green credits to the 10-month protest. "It wouldn't have come about if the numbers of people weren't there," says Green. "If it really was just half a dozen people camping, they would have just left us, we would have been invisible."
On Monday, cleanup crews filled large bins with leftover tents and debris, while photographers stood at the edges, taking photos of the people and structures left behind. By the end of day, observers estimated anywhere between five and 20 campers could be staying overnight, including a tent city founder named Doug.
"I'm going to stay there for the night if I can, or in another park, or walk the streets—do whatever I can," he told VICE. Doug doesn't have a long-term plan for life after tent city, but says it likely won't be in supportive housing, where he says service providers "patrol" and "control" residents.
In the spring, a BC Supreme Court judge overturned the province's request to evict the campers, which led many to believe they could stay until the fall. The judge reversed his decision last month because of safety hazards and the province's new housing pledge.
"We expected we'd be here until September 7, like the judge said," Doug told VICE. "It's too fast, there's too many people coming around, trying to get us out of there."
BC's minister of housing said the province would allow some leeway for those waiting to get placed and figuring out next steps. If the protest continues, they'll consider an enforcement order.
In the meantime, Green hopes the province does more for the city's 1,300 homeless, and BC's housing crisis in general.
"I don't think it's enough," says Green. "Housing costs are about double what we're given on disability and welfare—that's two times away from being able to afford your own place. Then you're digging into grocery money, and that's not safe, that's not healthy."
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