This is the first winter in five years that Darleen LaRose will be sleeping inside.
Although she’s thankful to now have a warm room at the Knights Inn and access to a hot shower, LaRose says she is heartbroken over what took place on Nov. 17.
That's when the City of Prince George brought in machinery to remove structures at the Lower Patricia encampment, commonly called Moccasin Flats.
“None of us had any idea that this was going to happen and that they were going to start bulldozing everybody’s places down,” says LaRose in an interview with the Citizen.
She was one of the first people to move into Moccasin Flats when the encampment began to form in the summer.
“I was lucky enough to get some of my things out before people went through everything and took whatever they wanted.”
LaRose said once the bulldozing began, some people started picking through the debris and taking whatever they could, which meant a lot of people lost their possessions before they were able to come back and move everything.
“There are some people that weren’t so lucky, they didn’t get nothing. They had the clothes on their backs and that was it.”
LaRose says her brother Hank and his wife, who are also now staying at the Knights Inn, had their tent bulldozed down without them knowing.
“They never got no warning or nothing, so they lost absolutely everything that they owned,” explained LaRose. “My brother went back to check his things out and there was nothing there.”
She says outreach workers from Association Advocating For Women And Community (AWAC) were moving people in their vans and workers from B.C. Housing was also there giving out bins to the people who needed them.
BC Housing has confirmed it moved 14 people from the Lower Patricia encampment into supportive homes that week, but states that it was not involved with any machinery or removal of items from the camp.
“Whoever it was with the bulldozer, was there bulldozing down people’s tents while we were moving. They already had my brother’s tent taken down by the time I was leaving and this was before noon.”
She says she is not aware of anyone giving consent to have their tents dismantled.
“I don’t think anyone gave consent to that. I wouldn’t — like why would you want something torn down when your stuff is still in it?”
LaRose says it was traumatic to see the machinery taking down the tents.
“It broke my heart, man. I actually cried, seeing all of that. After I was feeling a little bit better, after I was here for a couple of days, I went back and literally started crying. It was heartbreaking to see all of that.”
LaRose’s friend Nicole, who was also living at Moccasin Flats, says her tent was also torn down.
“I didn’t get housing. My tent was the first to be torn down and they didn’t tell us that they were tearing it down and we were still living in it. We just weren’t there that day when they tore it down. But we went home and it was bulldozed up.”
Nicole says she lost everything she owned and has been staying with LaRose when she can but mostly living on the streets.
“There are some people that were supposed to be housed that aren’t yet,” added LaRose. “There were some people staying down there for maybe a week or so and got housing, and the people that were there all the time never got any.”
LaRose says her room at the Knights Inn is “way better” and her dog likes it because it’s nice and warm.
“I wouldn’t want to be out in the cold. I know how it is — it is hard,” she noted, adding that she is still getting adjusted to being inside. “It’s good but it’s different because, a lot of the time, I forget my keys because I’m not used to having a key anymore.”
LaRose says she wishes the City would have explained what was going to happen or given the residents a warning.
“I was talking with the guys from BC Housing and first they said a month, then a couple of weeks — like they kept coming down and giving us warnings that they were coming,” said LaRose, although she noted that some people weren’t around to get those warnings.
“But they didn’t say nothing about the City of Prince George coming in that day to do anything like that, though. That was one thing they never mentioned. It was pretty unfair that so many people lost a lot of stuff and they can’t get it back especially sentimental value things.”
LaRose says her biggest hope is that everybody gets housing and can have a home of their own.
“I also hope that something happens to the people that bulldozed down all the tents and that — it has got to be something done about it because they can’t just get away with it,” she said.
“There’s still a lot of broken hearts out here because of what happened. There’s still a lot of lost people and I just hope something is done about this.”
The City of Prince George, however, has a conflicting description of what happened that day.
In a letter sent to the Prince George Citizen, in response to a guest editorial co-authored by a group of UNBC professors and students, the City asserts “occupants of the encampment left willingly to their new homes."
"BC Housing staff had regular, typically daily, conversations with occupants about housing for several weeks prior to the move. Once appropriate supportive housing was available, the occupants were given totes for their belongings and, 24-48 hours later, taken by van to their new homes.”
The City also says the encampment occupants gave consent to remove their belongings and “with the permission of each of the relocated occupants, staff taped off the tents and removed only those structures more than 24 hours after the occupants departed for housing.”
Furthermore, the City says claims that some of the tents were still occupied are incorrect, and given the close relationship city staff has with the occupants there was no confusion about who owned each tent.
The City is also asserting that after the last group of occupants moved into housing only one occupant who declined housing remained and that two more people have set up camp since then and now there are three occupants at Moccasin Flats.
Hearing date set
The issue is also before the courts, as the City is applying for a court order to clear out what remains of Moccasin Flats.
However, the initial hearing was delayed until Dec. 13 so opponents against the city have additional time to build a case against the move.
Court documents related to the action now include an affidavit from Michelle McGregor, a legal advocate for the B.C. First Nations Justice Council.
An initial B.C. Provincial Court ruling from Oct. 22, by Chief Justice Hinkson denied the City of Prince George’s request to remove the encampment on Lower Patricia Boulevard and said it could remain until suitable housing is available.
Hinkson ultimately found that there was inadequate shelter space available that the respondents could access, and they would also not be able to lawfully comply with the injunction without being in breach of the city’s Safe Streets Bylaw.
Further to applying for an application to close the Lower Patricia encampment, the city also announced it will be appealing 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.