The City of Prince George is supporting BC Housing’s efforts to house the remaining residents of the Lower Patricia tent encampment known as Moccasin Flats and plans to remove the remaining debris from the site, according to a city spokesperson.
Last week, BC Housing said it had moved a total of 24 people from the encampment to indoor shelter, before the city began removing items using heavy equipment on Nov. 17. As of Friday, a small number of people appear to remain at the site, along with a significant amount of debris including improvised shelters and a fifth-wheel travel trailer.
“The structures that were removed were owned by encampment occupants who had obtained housing and these individuals had given their permission to dispose of their property. Further cleanup can be anticipated as remaining occupants at the encampment are housed or subject to court order,” the city spokesperson said in an email on Friday. “(The) occupants who moved to housing last week all moved willingly and peacefully with totes containing their belongings. A couple of the occupants were later brought back by AWAC outreach staff to gather additional belongings. No one has reported any missing belongings to City staff.”
Earlier this month, a B.C. Supreme Court ruling determined that an encampment on George Street could be removed, but the Lower Patricia encampment had to remain until suitable housing is available.
City bylaw staff and outreach workers visit the site daily, the spokesperson said. The site is also routinely patrolled by RCMP officers.
Biohazards, including discarded needles, pose a challenge to the city’s staff cleaning the site, the spokesperson said.
“It is impractical and unsafe to remove such materials in large amounts by hand,” they said. “The protection and safety of staff was the reason heavy equipment, including a backhoe and dump truck, was used last week to remove abandoned structures at the site. City staff remove waste from illegal dumping and other hazards as part of their daily work.”
The cost of the clean up is expected to be covered by the city’s regular operational budget. City crews routinely clean up smaller encampments and illegal dumping in public spaces throughout the year, the spokesperson added.
The city also provides a grant to Downtown PG to support daily needle cleanups.
The city currently has no immediate plans to develop the site, which is zoned for park and recreational use, the spokesperson added.
In an interview last week, Darlene Kavka, a lawyer with the B.C. First Nations Justice Council who represented the encampment residents in court, raised concerns about the city’s actions to remove material from the site.
“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,” Kavka said. “When I was there earlier today (Nov. 18), 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.”
- With files from Hanna Petersen