Officials move in on North Cowichan homeless camp

Occupants left with no place to live

Celestine Norris is scrambling to try to come up with money for a hotel after being evicted Thursday from a vacant lot on Lewis Street where she was living in a tent.

Norris has been living on the streets in the Cowichan Valley for more than a year, and in a tent on the vacant lot between two apartment buildings since October along with a small group of other homeless campers.

She said police and bylaw officers from the Municipality of North Cowichan came by on the morning of Dec. 14 and ordered her and all the other campers to dismantle their tents and vacate the premises.

“They were not harsh about it or anything, and they gave me lots of time to take down the tent and gather my things,” Norris said as she sorted through her belongings that were stuffed into garbage bags across the street from the vacant lot.

“I don’t know where I’ll go now. I was banned from the Warmland shelter but that has been lifted. But I have a dog now and pets aren’t allowed at Warmland. I’ll go to a hotel that allows dogs if I can get the money together.”

The small tent community on Lewis Street, which consisted of three tents as of Thursday, has been drawing the attention of neighbours, the RCMP and the Municipality of North Cowichan since homeless people began setting up their tents there a few months ago.

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The land is private property and North Cowichan officials had been unsuccessful in contacting its owner to address the issue of the trespassing campers, making efforts to remove the tents complicated.

But Nelda Richardson, North Cowichan’s manager of building and compliance, said the owner, who doesn’t live in the Valley, was finally contacted recently and began efforts to remove the campers.

“We can’t say who the owner is, but he did come here and placed ‘no trespassing’ signs around the property and began asking the campers that were there to leave,” Robertson said.

“But he felt intimidated and asked for us and the RCMP to help him, so we went on the property on Thursday and saw to it that the tents and the people left. We’ll now work with the property owner to secure the property, probably by fencing it.”

Robertson said there are no other tent communities currently in the municipality that are known by authorities, but officials recognize that homeless issues are a growing problem in the Valley.

“It’s very unfortunate that these tent communities exist at all,” she said.

“All we can do as a municipality is deal with these communities case by case and offer the campers the resources that are available to help them. That’s the best we can do.”

The Warmland House homeless shelter is nearby to the property on Lewis Street that was cleared on Thursday, but it doesn’t allow drugs or alcohol use on site, which is a problem for some who need its services.

Sara Proult, 21, had just recently started living in a tent on the Lewis Street property and has no idea what she’ll do know that she’s been evicted.

“I started doing drugs awhile ago and I can’t stop using,” she said while sitting on a sleeping bag on the edge of the property after her eviction.

“I tried programs to break my habit, but nothing works. I guess I’ll just continue to live on the streets.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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