Prince George is setting up a centralized homeless camp to combat the spread of shelter elsewhere

The Moccasin Flats homeless camp was established in Prince George in 2021.  In March 2023, the city enacted a centralized camp approach that will establish Moccasin Flats as the only place in the community where overnight stays are permitted.  (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - photo credit)

The Moccasin Flats homeless camp was established in Prince George in 2021. In March 2023, the city enacted a centralized camp approach that will establish Moccasin Flats as the only place in the community where overnight stays are permitted. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC – photo credit)

Prince George City Council has voted to create a centralized homeless camp, which it will designate as the only place people can set up shelters, a move one city councilor has described as “the worst available option”.

The decision reverses the position taken by the council last summer and marks the city’s latest attempt to deal with homelessness in the community while responding to public safety and crime concerns of people living near camps.

Under the new policy, anyone building housing in the community will be directed to move to the location known as Moccasin Flats on Lower Patricia Boulevard on the edge of downtown core.

The camp was first established in the summer of 2021 on city-owned property along a gravel and gravel road. On the one hand its neighbors are shops and light industry. On the other side there is a causeway that leads to a residential neighborhood known as Millar Addition.

The city attempted to shut down the camp in the fall of 2021 by filing a court order to remove the campers. But in an October ruling, Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson found that the city had failed to show that there was a decent shelter for campers to move into, and the camp would be allowed to stay that way.

That decision was upheld in a February 2022 ruling when Judge Simon R. Coval said the city had “caused serious harm to vulnerable people” and violated Hinkson’s ruling when crews destroyed several dwellings at that camp.

However, the Hinkson ruling specifically said the city could close other camps and direct people seeking shelter there to move to Moccasin Flats.

Safety concerns from campers

In the months since, Moccasin Flats has established itself, with tents being replaced by caravans and local service groups putting up port-a-potties.

Peer support organization Uniting Northern Drug Users Undu’ing Stigma (UNDU) has also set up a heat and wellness caravan on site, along with supplies including water and naloxone overdose reversal kits.

It is estimated that between 20 and 30 people currently live there and they are more likely to move in when the weather warms up.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC

Andrew Kurjata/CBC

Meanwhile, another new warehouse was built in Millennium Park along First Avenue, prompting complaints from nearby businesses as well as Coun. Brian Skakun, who was concerned about the impact on nearby regional county offices.

Speaking to CBC News on Tuesday, a resident of the camp, posing as Anna, said she prefers the Mocassin Flats location because there are fewer people and fewer risks to their safety. She and another camper were unhappy with the idea that they might be forced to go elsewhere and said they felt it would be easier for them to be targeted.

But at Moccasin Flats, a resident said it would be better for people to move there because service providers screen people who live there and there is more support.

Juls Budău, a UNBC masters student and manager of wellness trailers at the UNDU site, said there are complex opinions from homeless people about where they want to live for their own safety.

Budău said while she understands the desire to clean up other parks, forcing everyone into one place presents its own problems.

They may be trying to avoid predators and abusive people,” she said in an interview with CBC Daybreak north. “I think trying to squeeze people into one place could be problematic.”

Ending homelessness as a pipe dream: security managers

Public Safety Director Adam Davey told the council that by adopting a centralized camp option, Moccasin Flats could be established as the only place where overnight camping would be allowed, giving workers the option to have shelters built elsewhere in the community to dismantle

Andrew Kurjata/CBC

Andrew Kurjata/CBC

Davey said that although two court rulings had found the city could not demolish moccasin dwellings until there was sufficient suitable housing elsewhere in the community, what was “suitable” had not been defined and so it was likely a “pipeline”. dream” that it could be achieved.

With that in mind, the council voted unanimously in favor of the motion, saying their hands were tied by the court’s rulings.

The “least worst option”: Councilor

“There is no perfect solution,” Coun said. Cori Ramsay added that she lives near the camp and personal belongings have been stolen so she knows the impact on the surrounding neighborhood. But she said the status quo doesn’t work, so she’s prepared to try a centralized model.

Other Council members took a similar stance, even those who voted against a centralized storage option when it was presented as an option in July 2022.

Nadia Mansour/CBC

Nadia Mansour/CBC

“I made a mistake,” Skakun said of voting against that option last year because the result was that other camps were set up while Coun. Garth Frizzell said: “It’s not the best solution, but it’s the solution we have.”

count. Kyle Sampson was reluctant to support Mocassin Flats as a location for a centralized warehouse because it was too remote from service providers, but also supported the motion as the “least worst option available” given the lack of other options.

He also proposed a unanimously supported motion that the city explore options to improve security in and around the camp through increased RCMP patrols and possible video surveillance in partnership with nearby businesses.

Several council members also stressed that the people living in the camp are citizens and deserve support and compassion.

“We must do our best to know every single person there,” Mayor Simon Yu said, adding that the ultimate goal is to help them move to proper housing.

“This is a temporary measure.”


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