Organizers of the ongoing homelessness protest on the lawns of City Hall say they have notified the city they will be taking down their camp later this week.
“We feel we have achieved a working relationship with the city and they seem committed to continue talks,” says Diane Palmer, spokesperson for the Grassroots Kind Hearts Society (GKHS), a local group of advocates that has been feeding the homeless of our community for about a year and organized the protest at City Hall.
The “Tent-In,” as it’s being called, has been active for over a month, but Palmer says the city has, during that time, shown their commitment to continue talks and seem genuinely sympathetic to the cause of eradicating homelessness. They have even offered up some land to the group so they can continue to serve dinner near the temporary emergency shelter, which was another of three requests the GKHS made to council during an April 11 presentation.
The first request was that the city continue to pressure BC Housing into making temporary shelter beds available until such time as a permanent facility can be built – a request that was seemingly fulfilled last week, when an additional $60,000 was announced for the shelter, allowing it to remain open until the end of June.
Their third request was that the city work with the group to find a permanent solution, which Palmer says it seems they are also committed to fulfilling. And so the “Tent-In” will be broken up voluntarily this week, “as an act of good faith,” Palmer says, as they await that permanent solution.
The city’s offer of a place to serve meals, Palmer says, is for the group to use the breakwater across the highway from McDonalds downtown, which has been confirmed by Campbell River City Manager Deborah Sargent.
“We’ll be working out the specific terms of that agreement later this week,” Sargent says, “but yes, we’ve said they can use a discrete section of what’s known as the 3.5 acre site downtown to run their dinner program temporarily while we continue to work together towards a permanent solution.”
Palmer also says that while the city had drafted a bylaw that would crack down on sleeping or camping on city property, that proposed legislation actually made them more committed to their protest, and is certainly not why they are leaving.
“We sought legal advice and were told the law would be on our side had we chosen to stay,” Palmer says. “We’re packing up because we feel our goals are in sight now. The city has made the commitment to continue their work with us, and we will hold them to that.”
She says that, in general, the community was very supportive of their efforts over the past month, despite the voices of some few who expressed opposition.
“We have felt very supported by the community as a whole and appreciate those that offered words of encouragement, shared their stories and brought down items to help us continue our protest,” Palmer says. “There are an element of people within our community that do not support those that are homeless in general and tend to be very vocal about it, but we feel that even negative attention to our cause still creates dialogue and education towards what is currently lacking in our community for those living on the streets.”
Sargent seems to agree with this sentiment, saying, “[the protest has] really brought these important community issues to the forefront, and what’s important is that the energy now is directed toward ongoing collaboration and continuing to have both sides listen to each other and working towards a permanent solution that works for the community.”