Camp next to Victoria courthouse remains packed with tents

B.C. a destination for down and out

Premier Christy Clark, Housing Minister Rich Coleman say people are free to come to B.C. and use shelters

News that the Saskatchewan government gave two young men one-way bus passes to B.C. is the latest sign that B.C. is more than ever the destination of choice for out-of-province homeless people.

Housing Minister Rich Coleman shrugged off a report from Saskatchewan that the pair were headed for Victoria, where the province is seeking a court order to wind down a ragged tent camp that sprang up last fall next to the downtown courthouse. The camp has attracted several people from out of province, as well as those who have camped in local parks for years.

“It’s a free country,” said Coleman, when asked if he had prevailed on other provincial governments to deal with their own cases rather than shipping them west.

He said B.C.’s budget for shelters is up about 20 per cent this winter as the annual winter migration of down-and-out people to the province’s mildest climate has swelled. Some of the extra arrivals are coming from Alberta, where the economy has suffered with the downturn in oil and gas prices.

Saskatchewan social services minister Donna Harpauer issued a statement Wednesday that said front-line social workers are being reminded that clients should have a plan in place “before they are given bus tickets to destinations away.”

Premier Christy Clark said one of the two is described as mentally ill, and taking them in is the Canadian thing to do.

“I don’t know very much about them, but I hope that wherever they are, they are able to get the care that they need,” Clark said. “And if they decide to come to British Columbia, we’re going to support them in that.”