The City of Prince George is correcting what is says is misinformation in a recent letter to the editor published in the Prince George Citizen (December 1, 2021 “Forced removal at Moccasin Flats a human rights concern”).
Several statements in the article in question exceed the realm of opinion and contribute to misinformation and inaccuracies about the encampment on Lower Patricia Boulevard, the relocation of dozens encampment occupants to housing, and the removal of abandoned structures and materials at the site, according to the city.
“BC Housing staff, City outreach workers, and City bylaw officers are trained, experienced professionals who have dedicated much of their careers to helping our vulnerable population,” said Adam Davey, director of public safety. “They do so with kindness and respect. Neither BC Housing nor City of Prince George staff were contacted by the authors of the letter prior to its publication and we have no knowledge of the origin of their, often serious, allegations.”
An example of one such inaccuracy is in the very title of the piece “Forced removal of occupants at Moccasin Flats”, said Davey, adding occupants of the encampment left willingly to their new homes. BC Housing staff had regular, typically daily, conversations with occupants about housing for several weeks prior to the move. Once appropriate supportive housing was available, the occupants were given totes for their belongings and, 24-48 hours later, taken by van to their new homes.
Another incorrect statement: “Then, in spite of the court ruling, on November 17, 2021, the city bulldozed Moccasin Flats.” In fact, the encampment and all the services the city and BC Housing have provided (toilet, wellness checks, bottled water, etc.) are still in place. With the permission of each of the relocated occupants, staff taped off the tents and removed only those structures more than 24 hours after the occupants departed for housing. Not all structures were removed because permission was not granted for all of them. Removal was done for the safety and well-being of the remaining occupants. There had been a fire in an abandoned structure just days before.
Given the close relationships our staff have with the occupants, there was no confusion about who owned each tent, Davey said. Claims that some of the tents were still occupied are incorrect.
The following paragraph also includes several misstatements:
“However, despite ample time to consult with residents about the move, they have never actually done so. The residents did not provide informed consent for the destruction of their belongings, nor were they consulted about the adequacy of the housing solutions made available – to the extent such were made available. In the rush to remove them, residents were led to believe they would be arrested if they remained or continued to camp at Moccasin Flats.”
Again, the encampment occupants gave consent to remove their belongings, said Davey. City staff did not begin removing abandoned structures until 24 to 48 hours after the relocation to housing, depending on the occupant. No one was threatened with arrest or harm. RCMP were not part of the operation and city staff cannot arrest people.
As for the adequacy of housing (a BC Housing responsibility), health assessments were provided to each occupant well ahead of the move to allow the supports they needed to be in place when they arrived at their new homes.
Fifty people from the encampments have moved into housing, either at the Knights Inn or at other sites, and are settling into new homes. After the last group of occupants moved to housing, one occupant who declined housing remained. Two more people set up camp since then and there are now three occupants.
The city remains in a supportive role with BC Housing and other service providers. City and BC Housing staff are at the encampment every day and have developed very respectful relationships with the people living there, said Davey. Together, they provide assistance and connections to resources. Our staff also remove bio-waste, needles, and other hazards daily for the health and safety of the occupants.
BC Housing’s Health Services team continues to visit the encampment to ensure anyone remaining is aware of warm shelter spaces immediately available to them and the site is visited regularly by city outreach staff.
Julie Rogers, communications manager, stated, “The city works very hard to ensure our information is clear, accurate and timely in accordance with the professional standards of the Canadian Public Relations Society and the Local Government Management Association,” said Julie Rogers, communications manager. “We welcome lively discourse and differing opinions on important issues facing our community, but this misinformation must be corrected publicly.”