Homeless worry about their future as deadline to move into hotel looms

Bylaw officers stand ready to pack up people’s tents as they move into hotels. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Sandy FIsher sits in a chair on Pandora, just outside his tent. Fisher says he’s not leaving Pandora Avenue until he’s satisfied that every homeless person in Canada is housed. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Colin Spikes, along with two others, have created a podcast called the Homeless Solution. The group records out of a tent in Beacon Hill Park. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
A nurse in full personal protective equipment talks to a man living on Pandora Avenue. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Shae Smith started a podcast called the Homeless Solution that he records out of his tent in Beacon Hill Park. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
According to Sandy Fisher, all the people living on Pandora Avenue have been tested for COVID-19 and everyone has come back negative. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

The atmosphere on Pandora Avenue changes daily, but tensions rose with the approach of the May 20 deadline set by the provincial government for moving people out of encampments and into hotels.

There’s a mix of people who want to go to the hotels and will gladly accept the housing, while there are others, like Sandy Fisher, who don’t want to move.

“My intention is to stay until I’m satisfied that every homeless or destitute person in Canada is properly, appropriately housed and supported,” he says. Fisher sat down with Black Press Media just outside a few large tents within the metal fencing — which some people on the streets have dubbed ‘cages’ — that’s been decorated with twigs, a mirror and a Narcan kit.

“My take on it is that there is no pandemic, it’s quite simple,” he says between puffs of a cigarette. According to Fisher, everyone on Pandora has been tested for COVID-19 and everyone has come back negative.

ALSO READ: B.C. enacts provincial order to move homeless at Victoria encampments into hotels

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has tested 17,820 people on the Island but does not break it down by community or release who has been tested.

Fisher compares the hotels that are being used as temporary shelters to filing cabinets — “these people are just files, getting filed away.” He says when the pandemic first hit “we were generally ignored by the municipality,” adding that when Our Place closed its doors sanitation become a big problem, with people having no washrooms or showers available to them.

“In fact, I’m probably safer out here — we established social distancing right away as soon as Our Place closed,” he says. “We had a little circle of friends sharing doobies, and we always had been, so I considered these people to be in my germ bubble already.”

ALSO READ: Employees feel ‘backstabbed’ after hotel sold to province to house homeless

For Shae Smith, who camps in Beacon Hill Park, the pandemic has exacerbated the stigma that people living on the street already felt. Smith created a podcast, called The Homeless Solution, that he records with a few other people who live on the street as well, as a way to help voice their concerns.

“In a society where bullying is not accepted, boy I feel pretty bullied as a homeless person,” says Smith. “I’m telling you it’s time for people to increase the love and realize that homeless people are people.”

Smith’s podcast covers topics from ‘Why do homeless people act so crazy anyway and why should I care,’ to publishing his views of the Victoria Police Department. The topic of moving the homeless into motels has also been addressed on the podcast.

“I liken it to people who are [experiencing] a mass air-raid, that’s how I feel honestly — that’s the security level,” he says. “I feel like tomorrow, my home could be destroyed by whatever means.”

Smith calls enforcement of the push to get the homeless into hotels a “massive human rights violation.”

“What they’re doing to evict or force to move or move without consulting is a human rights violation,” he says.

Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, said in a press conference on May 20, that 308 people living in Topaz Park and along Pandora have been moved into hotels, while another group of about 30 remains.

Simpson says the expectation is to have everyone out by the end of the day. The next steps will be to hand the site back over to the City of Victoria, so it can be “secured” and cleared.

Smith says he applied for a room in a hotel but never got one. He believes the government will try to force those remaining on the streets into the Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena, which he says is a “soft incarceration prison.”

Colin Spikes, who lives on Pandora, has been featured on the podcast multiple times. He says at the beginning of the pandemic he went to Topaz Park, but says it looked too much like a “homeless cemetery” for him to want to stay there.

On Monday evening, about 12 people created a blockade at the intersection of Pandora and Vancouver Street, which lasted about 30 minutes. According to Smith and Spikes, there could be more blockades depending on what happens May 20.

“We’ll probably end up caging it off and making it difficult to move us, so all this fence that they put in — when life gives you lemons you make lemonade,” says Spikes.

But Fisher doesn’t think it’ll come to that.

“Honestly I think they’re just going to back away quietly,” he says. “They’ve already done it once, they didn’t enforce the order on May 9 because they realized they weren’t going to get it done in time and at this point, they’re going to have to realize that again.”

As for Smith, the solution to homelessness is an open and honest dialogue.

“Figuring out the needs of the individual and helping that person get the individual help they need, I think that would be a lot better than just having a blanket [approach].”



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusHomeless

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Metchosin to test tsunami notification on Thursday evening

Approximately 80 to 100 residents in tsunami-zone

Public tips lead to arrest in alleged random assault on Victoria bus

June 19 incident was recorded by onboard camera

Sooke Crisis Centre closes doors

Services previously offered to be dispersed throughout community support groups

New affordable homes on the way in Sooke

Eight new affordable rental homes to be built at Hope Centre

CRD explores option to use Oak Bay Lodge for people who are homeless

Motion asks staff to work with BC Housing, Island Health on possibilities

VIDEO: Victoria’s Raging Grannies call for end to public funding of for-profit senior homes

Organizer says COVID-19 has made senior home issues more apparent

Campaign aims to raise $50K for young family of deceased Vancouver Island skydiver

James Smith, 34, died July 5 following incident in Nanoose Bay

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Filing deadline in RCMP sexual-harassment class-action extended due to COVID-19

Plaintiffs now have until January 2021 to submit claims for up to $222,000

Jamie Bacon pleads guilty to charge in Surrey Six case

The plea brings an end to a complex legal case that has spanned more than a decade

Hefty undeclared driver charges piling up, ICBC warns customers

Average extra penalty $2,971 after an at-fault accident

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

RCMP disarm man experiencing mental health crisis

The male pulled a knife on officers and then held it to his own throat expressing a desire to die

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Most Read