It’s been two weeks since tents were pitched outside city hall on Nov. 8, making a shelter and a statement to Prince Rupert about the community’s homelessness problem.
Approximately 15 people have been staying there, and the number of tents on the lawn has grown from two to 10.Since the tents were set up, the public gathered at the Nov. 14 council meeting to hear MLA Jennifer Rice announce 44 modular housing units from the province. Days later the city responded on Nov. 17 with another announcement: A new emergency winter shelter, run by the North Coast Transition Society (NCTS), has opened downtown as a more immediate — if temporary — solution.
But the new winter shelter will only be open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. The ‘wet’ shelter will allow intoxicated residents dealing with drug and alcohol issues, but will not permit using on the premises.
“I don’t think it’s going to meet the needs,” said Shane Axworthy, who has been staying at tent city for several days. “I think what needs to happen is the city has to work with the government and get some affordable housing. Rent was jacked up when they thought LNG (liquefied natural gas) was coming… But the rent is ridiculous. There’s no middle class anymore. There’s low class, there’s high class. People on welfare can’t afford a $1,200 single bedroom unit. We have a transition house, but there’s got to be a long-term solution as well.”
Gloria Venn, one of the tent city organizers of the newly-named Unity City, said the tents will remain outside of city hall until there is a 24-hour shelter or an equivalent space available.
“They have a place to go for the nighttime right now, but they still don’t have a safe place to go for the daytime,” Venn said.
On Nov. 22, Unity City held an auction at the Nisga’a Hall to raise money to cover the basic needs of the people staying outside of city hall. Despite the short notice, Venn said more than $2,000 was raised.
“This is the beginning stages of our organization. We’re still learning as we go and we’re still figuring things out,” she said. “I think we’re going to be working along with the night shelter as well.”
Plans are in the works to provide a place for people to go during the day while the extreme weather shelter is closed. Cal Russ, who has been homeless for five years and staying at tent city since its foundation, said this is the first time he’s gotten help.
“Now everything is falling into place. We’re going to get a place not too far from the shelter. It’s going to be open 8-8 for people to drop in … because walking the streets you don’t know who you’ll bump into. You might fall off the wagon … and we don’t want them to do that,” Russ said. “We’re going to have a place open for people to drop by and have coffee, instead of them walking in the rain.”
Meanwhile, the new emergency shelter run by the North Coast Transition Society is anticipating the delivery of mattresses on Nov. 23.
“We should have the mattresses in, which are really quite comfortable and easy to wipe down,” NCTS director Christine White said. “It’s coming along.
“In a very short space of time, basically in two days [the NCTS] put together an extreme weather shelter to serve the citizens who are most vulnerable and using the tent city in Prince Rupert. It’s coming together more everyday. We’re serving hot soup and we’ve had lots of donations of hot sandwiches and chili. Every night there’s always something hot to eat, there’s coffee.”
She hopes that people staying in tent city will use the new shelter.
“We did certainly want to respond to [the need],” White said. “I think [tent city] did draw attention to the issue.”