RCMP investigate tent city shooting as Prince George prepares to evict homeless residents

RCMP are investigating a shooting in a homeless encampment in Prince George, B.C.  (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)
RCMP are investigating a shooting in a homeless encampment in Prince George, B.C. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC - image credit)

Prince George RCMP are investigating a shooting in a homeless encampment early Friday morning.

RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Cooper said police received a call from the encampment shortly after 3 a.m. where an injured woman was found, treated and taken to hospital. Her status is not known.

The shooting happened just one day after the City of Prince George announced plans to move forward with a court injunction to shut the homeless camp down, and expects to be before the courts the week of Sept. 13.

But while the city says it is working with B.C. Housing to find places for people to live, those in the camp say they have nowhere else to go.

"They're going to take what little we have left and totally destroy us," said one camp resident, who asked to be identified as Corey. "[If] this closes, it's really going to destroy a lot of people."

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

People living in the camp say the existing shelter system doesn't meet their needs, and many say they are on wait lists with B.C. Housing and other outreach agencies. They say they moved to the camp — dubbed by some as Moccasin Flats — over the summer as police and bylaw officers cracked down on other homeless encampments closer to the downtown core, responding to complaints from local business owners.

Since the camp was established, volunteers have been providing people there with drinking water, food and medical services. Garbage receptacles and a porta-potty have been installed at the camp's entrance.

But RCMP say they've also recorded a rise in complaints from the nearby Millar Addition, a residential neighbourhood that overlooks the homeless camp.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

"Gun shots, bear bangers, fireworks ... I hear it all the time," said Michelle Stephens, whose house is just a few hundred metres away from the camp.

Stephens said while the petty crime isn't the fault of everyone living in the camp, there's been a noticeable uptick since it was established and that it's affecting her mental health.

"There's a level of fear that wasn't there before," she said.

Across the street, neighbour Kelli Moffat agreed.

"Our vehicles are checked nightly. The doors on our house are checked almost nightly ... It's gotten substantially worse."

But although they want the encampment shut down, neither Stephens nor Moffat think that goes far enough. Both said they want the city to do more to help people in need transition to permanent housing.

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

"I have no issue paying that in my taxes," Stephens said. "There needs to be a place for them to feel safe and to go."

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall has repeatedly said that his role is to push the provincial and federal governments to provide more social services and that he is supportive of B.C. Housing efforts to buy up old motels and hotels around the downtown and covert them into affordable housing.

The city has also partnered with the province and Northern Health to begin construction of a supportive housing project a few blocks away from the camp, which will include units for people who are homeless and those with low to moderate incomes.

The units, which are set to be complete in 2022, will also have around-the-clock staffing to help people with mental health and harm reduction services.

But in the interim, people living in the camp are hopeful the city will allow them to stay.

Amelia Merrick, a member of the advocacy group Together We Stand, says there are not currently enough spaces for people to go, so shutting down the camp will simply force people to set up in another neighbourhood.

"There is no affordable housing in our city," she said. "This [shutting camps down] is not an effective solution."

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