‘I took refuge under someone’s hedge:’ Camper ousted from Pandora still hoping for hotel

'I took refuge under someone's hedge:' Camper ousted from Pandora still hoping for hotel
WatchEight people were arrested Sunday after refusing to leave the Pandora homeless camp. One camper said all of his belongings were seized. April Lawrence reports.

The tent city on Pandora Avenue was empty and fenced off Monday morning, five days after a public safety order deadline for all homeless campers to leave.

But Victoria police say on Sunday eight people remained and refused to leave so police moved in to arrest them.

In a statement saying, “VicPD officers, City of Victoria Bylaw officers, BC Housing staff, and social services agency staff provided every possible opportunity for those encamped in this area to depart without enforcement action.”

READ MORE: Eight arrests made at Pandora Avenue homeless camp Sunday afternoon

Colin Spikes wasn’t among those arrested as he wasn’t on-site Sunday evening but he says he did lose all of his belongings when they shut the camp down.

“Last night I was out in the elements, I was out in the weather, I took refuge under someone’s hedge on Dallas Road,” he said.

Spikes was one of the first to set up a tent on the Pandora Avenue corridor but says the only housing offer he received was a shelter mat. His friend Shea Smith, who he’s now staying with at Beacon Hill Park, says he hasn’t been offered anything.

“Would we be out in this, out in the rain in the muck out in the elements? Absolutely everyone one of us said we would take a hotel, even if it was out of the city,” Spikes said.

And those who work with the homeless population say they aren’t alone. Reverend Allen Tysick, executive director of the Dandelion Society, estimates there are about 200 people still camping outside with nowhere to go.

“We had a list and some people were just left behind because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, some people were camping by themselves and they came to Topaz Park or to Pandora Street too late,” Tysick said.

Then there are those people who are still sleeping on mats in local shelters who are also waiting for improved indoor accommodation.

Our Place Society’s Grant McKenzie says there about 80 people in its shelter system hoping to secure hotel rooms.

“When there’s an emergency like this you want to get everybody housed as quickly as possible so people who are in the shelter system are already housed, they’re inadequately housed, but they’re housed,” he said.

And he says sometimes people refuse housing for a variety of reasons including bringing attention to the issue of homelessness.

“They’re really trying to hold out to show the community, show the city, show the province, that there is definitely a continuous need for more social housing,” he said.

The province says it is working on securing more housing and Victoria city council has voted to allow people to keep their tents up in Beacon Hill for the duration of the public health emergency.

That’s where Shea Smith and Colin Spikes will stay until they find somewhere inside.

April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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