Outside the walls of city hall, a few tents have been raised to draw attention to the need for a homeless shelter in Prince Rupert.
“It’s such a small community and there’s like 30-40 people on the street every night and they’re all sleeping in areas that can be unbearable because your body takes a toll, and you can’t handle it all the time,” said Roger Smith, one of the organizers.
Mayor Lee Brain was present to lend a hand in setting up one of the tents. He met with the leader of the movement, Patrika McEvoy outside.
“They’re setting that up to make a statement, we understand that and I’m certainly not going to be out there being aggressive with anybody or upset, so I wouldn’t say that I’m supportive of them sleeping outside anywhere in a tent. People should be in a home. It should be a basic right,” Brain said.
There were four tents set up by 3:30 p.m. with some people ready to stay the night when temperatures hover around zero degrees. Smith said he is going to stay for as long as it takes and they are hoping they make the numbers grow to gather more support.
Police arrived shortly after the first three tents were set up and asked what the people were doing there and who was in charge. They spoke to a couple people and then left.
“We’re trying to organize a mini tent city in comparison to the one we see in Vancouver to raise awareness about the amount of homelessness that is going on in the City of Prince Rupert,” Smith said.
The mayor has been trying to address the issue, which is outside his political reach. The province is responsible for affordable housing in municipalities. Last year, mayor and council toured city-owned lots and identified six lots that would be suitable for affordable housing.
The city has been willing to donate the land to the province — at no cost — to build affordable housing units or a shelter. But nothing came to light.
With a new government, Mayor Brain is hoping to see some traction. He has reached out to North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice to discuss solutions.
“One of the things that I’m seeing now as the mayor is that the housing file provincially needs to be re-thought and maybe that it needs to be run by municipalities … We see it on the ground and then every community across B.C. has to call upon the provinces to come and help. It makes it so we can’t respond. Technically it’s not in our jurisdiction,” he said.
Momentum for building a homeless shelter for men fizzled after the North Coast Transition Society didn’t receive funding for phase two of its investigation into developing the much-needed service in the community.
Joe Viscount, one of the supporters of the mini tent city movement, said he also worked on getting a homeless shelter for men with former Captain Gary Shiels at the Salvation Army, but still no result.
“Homelessness in this town has been a problem for as long as I’ve been here, which is 32 years. It’s well hidden. There are people sleeping behind the college. There have been people sleeping down behind the mall forever and people sleeping in parked cars,” Viscount said.
On Tuesday, Nov. 14, the mayor plans to bring the issue to council and to reach out once again to the province.
In the letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson, he wrote that he would like to see the modular home project that was launched in Smithers to come to the coast.
On Sept. 29, the province announced a program to bring 600 units on City of Vancouver land, and more to Smithers, with plans to build 2,000 modular units over the next two years for other communities in the province.