On day two of an injunction hearing in B.C. Supreme Court, it was the defense’s turn to argue why homeless people should be able to continue camping on the courthouse lawn
Residents of Victoria’s tent city were cleaning up Monday, picking up garbage and hauling it away in wheelbarrows.
While just down the street, some of their fellow campers and supporters entered the Victoria Law Courts, to present their argument for remaining on the provincially-owned land.
“We want land, we want homes, we don’t just want quick fixes, we want to make sure our stories are heard,” said tent city camper Kyle Wright.
On Friday the province outlined its argument at the injunction hearing, saying the camp is a health and safety hazard and a public nuisance.
But on Monday lawyers for the residents argued it is safer for the city’s homeless in the tent city community than alone on the streets.
Camp supporter Christine Brett said multiple people in the camp have been saved from overdoses because of Narcan kits.
“100% of the people here, even the non users have them, so they can be administered to neighbours in need,” said Brett.
Lawyers argued that of the 11 fatal overdoses in Greater Victoria in the past few months, only one occurred at tent city.
“You can’t stop it so make it safe, save lives,” said supporter Thea Hinks.
One of the most heated moments in court came when the defense refuted the provinces claims that human feces had been found on the property and around it.
The defense lawyer saying those claims were wholly unsubstantiated and only aimed to perpetuate prejudice against homeless people.
She said the province should be chastised for even bringing it up — at that point the courtroom erupted in applause
The defense also told the Supreme Court Chief Justice that residents have been meeting weekly with Victoria Police and Victoria Fire to improve health and safety at the camp.
“We’ve been working on greater larger paths of egress outside the tents so we can get stretchers or fire hoses in if need be,” said Brett.
“We have fire extinguishers all over tent city, some of them have been provided by the Victoria Fire Department, they refill our extinguishers when we use them.”
Some of the residents are part of a safety committee, which also includes police and fire officials and a representative from the Ministry of Children and Families — the group meets every Tuesday to discuss issues and concerns.
While the province has opened 128 new shelter spaces in the past few months, residents say it’s not nearly enough to house all of the city’s homeless.
And while they wait for the provincial and federal governments to find a solution to the homelessness crisis, they want a piece of land to keep their community going.
The arguments in the injunction hearing are expected to wrap up Tuesday but it’s unclear when the judge will make his decision.