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Update: Lawyer calls Moccasin Flats bulldozing a 'brutal approach'

Moccasin Flats residents being moved into housing, encampment bulldozed
Moccasin Flats cleanup
A loader dumps debris from Moccasin Flats into a truck on Wednesday.

Machinery was brought in Wednesday to clean debris out what is left of structures at Moccasin Flats encampment at Lower Patricia Blvd. 

B.C. Housing, City bylaws, and outreach workers appeared to be on-site to help residents to move into housing. 

A van was providing rides for residents to new accommodations and workers on-site said all but two residents had accepted offers of accommodations.

The encampment was the subject of a recent court case where the City of Prince George sought an injunction to remove two encampments; one on Lower Patricia Boulevard known as Moccasin Flats and one on George Street.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruling determined that while the George Street encampment could be removed, the lower Patricia encampment had to remain until suitable housing is available.

On Nov. 2 the city placed temporary fencing around the George Street site and relocated 20 occupants into supportive housing.

At that time the city also announced it would be appealing Chief Justice Hinkson’s ruling to the BC Court of Appeal, and will be seeking financial assistance on the cost of the appeal from the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) appeal fund and other local governments in B.C.

The City said this action with the BC Court of Appeal will address what the City believes to be errors in the law within the BC Supreme Court’s reason for judgment.

However Darlene Kavka, a lawyer with the B.C. First Nations Justice Council who represented the encampment residents in court, said she is concerned with the manner in which structures were bulldozed.

“I don't think that people gave any consent to have the balance of their belongings bulldozed and put in piles and that's what they've done,” said Kavka.

“When I was there earlier today, and there were a group of advocates also there to see what's going on, there were people rummaging through those piles of debris trying to find their things some of whom said they have not been offered any housing and they have not consented to anything.”

Kavka says she sees this as an action that is in contempt of the court order currently in place and she spoke to some people who were not offered housing and their shelters were buried in bulldozed piles.

“I want people to understand that no one wants folks out in the cold. We don't want folks out in the cold either, but it traumatizes them. Some of them have said they've already been evicted from some of the housing that was provided earlier, and they have nowhere to go.”

She said there is a whole community of people who were involved in this area and wants to make sure that people are okay.

“It doesn't appear that that's necessarily the case. And certainly, it's not the case for those that we encountered digging for their own modest possessions from a debris pile left by a bulldozer.”

Kavka added that homelessness is a complex crisis and that the needs of the homeless are not all the same.

“We have the community here that has needs that aren't being met and this brutal approach is exactly what we were trying to prevent as we go about this in the most humane way possible. It's simply inappropriate.”

In statement, the City of Prince George said it is fully adhering to the Court ruling on the encampment. The City said it is not closing the encampment but rather removing abandoned structures, refuse, and debris from civic property to reduce risks such as fire hazards.

The city said recently, BC Housing relocated some encampment occupants to housing with those belongings that they chose to take and that each encampment occupant who relocated confirmed with outreach staff their wish to no longer live in the structure and that they understood it and anything they left behind would be removed by the City following their departure.

The city said it is continuing to work closely with BC Housing to ensure the safety of the occupants and to transition those who want to move to housing.

In October, the provincial government announced it would be leasing the Knights Inn at 650 Dominion St. downtown, directly across from the new Downtown Pool, which will provide 44 units of supportive housing for people living outside or in emergency shelters.

At that time, the province indicated residents were anticipated to move into the accommodations in early November.

Prince George Native Friendship Centre is the operator and will provide residents with support services, including daily meals and health and wellness support services. At least two staff members will be on-site around the clock.

It’s not clear how many encampment residents have been provided housing in the Knights Inn and how many remain unsheltered.

The Citizen has reached out to the B.C. Housing for a statement and further details regarding the status of the Moccasin Flats encampment.