Officials tear down a makeshift shelter protesters and campers made that surrounded the wooden gazebo at Roger Creek Park on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Officials tear down a makeshift shelter protesters and campers made that surrounded the wooden gazebo at Roger Creek Park on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Port Alberni tent city evicted again

Campers took over gazebo at Roger Creek Park

For the second time in a week, a tent city that started as a protest against the Port Alberni Shelter Society has been evicted—this time from Roger Creek Park.

Gaylene Thorogood, Port Alberni’s manager of community safety, said the protesters and campers were given two verbal warnings on Wednesday and Thursday, and two people were issued trespass notices by hand on Thursday afternoon. She said a bylaw officer had twice let campers know they were not permitted to camp overnight in the city-owned park, and that tarping the gazebo and lighting propane firepits inside the gazebo were fire hazards.

“There were six people in there at the time,” she said.

Outreach workers with Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) arrived and offered three of the people who stuck around hotel rooms, but all rooms were declined, Thorogood said. “At this point we thought they were probably not going to leave and camp overnight. It’s a wooden structure so I feel there was a safety concern there, especially when they had an alternate place offered to them.”

At 5 p.m. city officials arrived and told campers they had to leave. Furthermore, the trespass notices said they cannot return to the park for 30 days.

Graham Hughes, who organized the tent city, said everything was torn down and put into a small garbage truck, including Naloxone kits that were clearly labeled in a tote with other hygiene products; new butane fires and cots; and propane tanks for the old propane fire pits.

Thorogood said campers were given ample notice that the camp would be dismantled if they didn’t leave. “They were told earlier to pick up their belongings and go. We had said we would come back and take this down.”

Hughes said the people who had been camping in Roger Creek Park scattered; he and others spent the weekend trying to find people to account for them and ensure they were still safe.

Some of the campers’ belongings were returned to Hughes and volunteers on Monday afternoon, but Hughes said nothing much was salvageable. “I think they just made someone pull it out of the garbage,” he posted on social media.

Hughes and almost two dozen volunteers gathered late Friday and Saturday nights to patrol the back alleys and parks of Port Alberni seeking out those sleeping outdoors to hand out food and Naloxone kits. He said in a way, his efforts to bring attention to the plight of the city’s homeless and how they are dealt with have come full circle.

“When we started this whole thing (in mid-October) a small group of us started doing outreach at night,” he said. He and fellow election candidates Helen Poon and Evan Jolicoeur were joined by other community members, and donations of food, clothing and Naloxone kits were distributed to people sleeping rough in alleys.

Hughes said he intends to keep advocating for the city’s vulnerable population—although he is keeping quiet about whether another tent city will be formed.

“Just letting people know we’re not giving up on them. We just can’t abandon the people. Everyone on the streets are fighting the fight but they burn out. We’re still fighting the fight and we’re still here.”

Hughes said it will take unity from all fronts to solve Port Alberni’s homeless issue.

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said the city has been working with PASS and BC Housing to open the old shelter. Minions said the new shelter beds must be filled before the emergency beds at the old shelter can be utilized.

“Occupancy varies but the shelter had seven bed unused (Nov. 17),” as an example. There are 12 beds in the old shelter and it can be open on short notice. “It has been activated two or three times this year since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” she added.

Minions said several people who were previously on the banned list “have been given another chance and are now permitted in.” She added that if there are people who still feel like they are not able to access the available shelter beds “we’d like to connect with them to be able to personally facilitate conversations to arrange a plan to gain access back or alternative options.”

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Officials tear down a makeshift shelter protesters and campers made that surrounded the timbered gazebo at Roger Creek Park on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Officials tear down a makeshift shelter protesters and campers made that surrounded the timbered gazebo at Roger Creek Park on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

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