A tent city has popped up by the water fountain at City Hall, protesting the treatment of the homeless at the Extreme Weather Shelter.
“We have to do what we’ve got to do to get the people back in the shelter and treated with some sympathy, respect and empathy,” said Veronica Fenton, a supporter of the protest.
On Friday night Fenton and Dayna Mastre — who worked at the homeless shelter for six months before being let go — set up the camp after alleging that Prince Rupert’s homeless people have been mistreated by the shelter’s employees.
Some of the issues mentioned by Fenton and Mastre was the staff telling the homeless how much they hate them, people getting kicked out of the shelter for arbitrary amounts of time for swearing, and being forced to live on the streets for two weeks because staff mistakenly let them in a day early.
“When you have respect for them they treat you with respect,” said Mastre who is helping out the homeless because she once suffered from heavy addiction issues. “I trust these guys and they trust me. Just because someone drinks daily doesn’t mean they lie.”
Victor Loyie, who also lives on the streets, came to the tent city to volunteer in support of the people kicked out of the homeless shelter.
“They need to be let back in right away because it is getting cold outside, they have no blankets or anything,” he said.
Loyie said he has never experienced abuse at the shelter however, he has witnessed incidents where the homeless were not treated with respect from verbal abuse to getting kicked out no matter how cold or wet it is outside.
“The staff needs to take some kind of course to better their attitude toward the homeless,” he said.
Loyie and Mastre also said there is an opportunity for the homeless to file complaints at the Extreme Weather Shelter however, most go unanswered and some have the forms are allegedly ripped out of the hands.
Although housing is in the provincial jurisdiction, Fenton and Mastre are protesting at City Hall because the city has taken down camps set up at Morseby over the past five years.
“They took all their tents away from them and some of them never got their stuff inside. The bylaw officer finds them and kicks them out even though they don’t like living in the homeless shelter because of the way they’ve been treated,” Fenton said.
Veronika Stewart, communications manager for the city, stated that tents from under the Second Ave. bridge were removed due to safety concerns following fires that were set by occupants.
“The occupants were notified in advance that they would need to move from the area. Fencing was also installed to prevent future occupancy, and protect the integrity of the wooden trestle bridge,” Stewart said.
Mastre said she did speak to Mayor Lee Brain early Sunday morning and was told that all the homeless people would be allowed back in the Extreme Weather Shelter and that an RCMP officer would be giving a sensitivity training to the employees.
Mastre also said Brain promised to meet with her and Fenton next week.
Mayor Brain is currently out of town and could not be reached for comment or confirmation regarding the solutions Mastre said he presented.
Stewart did confirm that representatives from the city have reached out to the organizers to put them in touch with the appropriate people that can assist with a solution.
“We hope to see those conversations bear fruit in the near future,” Stewart said.
Ultimately, the call on whether or not people can stay at the facility rests with the Transition Society.
Christine White, executive director of North Coast Transition Society, said she has no comment at the moment regarding the allegations that employees were mistreating homeless people. White also did not comment as to whether or not everyone is allowed back in the shelter.
Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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