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Court documents detail difficulty accessing shelter spaces in Prince George

New evidence regarding shelter spaces filed in Moccasin Flats case
Mocassin Flats tent
Three people seen putting up a tent at Moccasin Flats.

Further submissions have now been filed in the ongoing B.C. Supreme Court case regarding the City of Prince George’s petition to evict the remaining residents and close down the encampment on Lower Patricia Boulevard known as Moccasin Flats.

After a three-day hearing in December 2021, Justice Simon Coval delayed his decision on the matter to allow for further submissions regarding the availability of shelter spaces and daytime facilities for unhoused individuals in the city.

Lack of availability of suitable housing and daytime facilities was a deciding factor in Justice Hinkson’s decision to allow the encampment to remain open back in October 2021, when the city first petitioned the court.

Now in an affidavit from a city outreach worker and B.C. Housing, the city is providing evidence regarding daytime facilities in the city and the status of the Knights Inn.

An affidavit from City of Prince George outreach worker Patrick Zsomber details eight programs in the city that offer daytime facilities and access for vulnerable individuals.

Attached to his affidavit is a list from RCMP community policing of emergency resources in the city.

However, an affidavit from a UNBC social work graduate student Juls Budau stated that there were several inaccuracies and omitted important information on the RCMP emergency resources list.

“That list is not updated, accurate or accessible for dehoused people in crisis.”

An additional affidavit from Chris Wetmore, coordinated access and assessment manager at BC Housing, explained that as of Dec. 21 there are no vacancies at the Knights Inn, until five rooms become available following repairs, or are currently occupied rooms become available for new occupants.

He stated that there is no separate waitlist for supportive housing at the Knights Inn.

“While operators of the Knights Inn may maintain a waitlist or may receive applications directly, BC Housing processes all applications for supportive housing in Prince George and determines which supportive housing site successful applications are offered.”

'Availability of resources changes frequently'

The new submissions also include affidavits from social workers and community volunteers who attempted to find daytime and overtime shelter spaces for unhoused individuals.

In her affidavit, Budau also describes an instance on Jan. 3 when it was -20 C with a -31 C windchill when she attempted to find daytime shelter for an unhoused woman named Rebecca who was banned from the AWAC shelter.

After contacting several services, Budau was unable to find anywhere for the woman to go, but let Rebecca charge her phone in Budau’s car so she could contact a family member.

“Rebecca would not have been able to get out of the freezing cold weather without the help of me, a private citizen driving a 1999 Corolla in a snowstorm.”

Brenda MacDougal, a registered social worker, also submitted an affidavit detailing an incident on Dec. 26 where she attempted to find shelter for three individuals experiencing homelessness but was unable to find anywhere they could access and instead reached out to volunteers on Facebook who brought them socks, gloves and boots.

“The times and availability of resources in Prince George change frequently with the holidays and the extreme weather. I often call to ask for the current status of resources because it is unpredictable when they are open. This is an ongoing challenge for people who are trying to access those resources,” said MacDougal.

“The places that are open during extreme weather events such as we have been experiencing over the last few weeks are not always safe or accessible for the people I serve.”

Amelia Merrick, who volunteers with the group Together We Stand, submitted that on Jan. 2 she personally conducted on-site visits to the fifteen resources provided in the affidavit from the city outreach workers and said all were over-capacity when she visited them.

“Staff I spoke to at Ketso, ASAP, the Fire Pit, Sk’ai Zeh Yah said that there are insufficient daytime facilities. There are not enough places for people to go during the day. There are not enough health, mental health, addiction, or educational supports,” stated Merrick.

'We are on the move for hours every day' 

The submission also included three affidavits from homeless persons who described difficulty in accessing shelter spaces in the city.

A 24-year-old man named Shane said he is banned from most shelters in Prince George. He was interviewed for his affidavit on Dec. 28 when it was -32 C.

“I do not believe there are really many places for the cold and homeless to seek safe shelter from the bitter cold. You can walk for hours and just find one closed door after another,” said Shane.

“I know for me there have not been a lot of places to be inside during this cold snap. On top of how cold it is, I am concerned about COVID being inside at the drop-in places. You can hear lots of people coughing. It’s disturbing.”

He said he needs housing and supports so he can work on the issues in his life but has not been able to find either.

“It is painful and depressing to be living on the streets in such misery.”

Hope, a 23-year-old former resident of Moccasin Flats, also provided an affidavit stating that she was not offered housing and her belongings had been destroyed.

“I had a tent and tarps there. I am still without housing, and I would not live outside if I had the option of staying indoors,” stated Hope, also noting that she is without ID because her birth certificate was inside her demolished tent.

“Currently I am just roaming the streets.  I have been kicked out of most shelters for various reasons that I think are trivial and cannot go to any of them anymore.”

Hope said she suffers from mental health and addictions issues and cannot get a job without a place to stay or an ID.

“The Firepit used to be a place where people could stay inside and socialize and eat. It is not the same now since COVID-19 started. There are very few places a person can actually warm-up or be inside. This is true night or day.”

She said it is difficult to stay at drop-in places for someone in active addiction.

“No one is around because it is so cold outside. Some people got housing, but a lot of us are still roaming the streets suffering,” said Hope.

“We never know when places are open or closed. It is hit and miss and walking around checking places is painful and terrible. I get to a place and hope it will be open and it is not. And COVID is also frightening. There is no place for people to be, where they can feel safe and just rest. We are on the move for hours of every day.”