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Downtown homeless camp a headache for municipal authorities

COURTENAY, B.C- A vacant lot in Courtenay’s downtown core appears to be causing some issues for the city’s authorities.

The former site of the Palace theatre sits at the intersection of England Avenue and 5th Street, with a wooden fence around the perimeter of the lot blocking it from view. Behind the fence, however, the green space on the inside has gained some residents.

Multiple tents are now present on the site, along with a scattered amount of litter, such as bicycle parts and propane tanks. A door at the northeast corner of the lot was hanging open on Wednesday afternoon, though none of the people who appeared to be living at the site were present.

One of the tents on the site is pictured on April 4, 2018. Photo by James Wood/98.9 The Goat/Vista Radio
One of the tents on the site is pictured on April 4, 2018. Photo by James Wood/98.9 The Goat/Vista Radio

According to Courtenay mayor Larry Jangula, the owner of the property has contacted the police, and responsibility lies with the owner to get the people out of the lot.

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“If these people leave, and leave a lot of debris, we, being the City, will clean that area up and bill the owner of the property,” said Jangula.

“I’d like to see them go into an area where the province provides for them, some kind of housing. Quite frankly, some of those folks, no matter what you give them, they wouldn’t go to it anyway. It doesn’t matter what you build, where you put it, they won’t go.”

As for the visible issue of homeless residents of the Valley living in tents downtown, Jangula indicated the problem was widespread.

“They’re camped everywhere,” said Jangula.

“Along the river, along the bridges, they’re camped up in the woods. I suppose the only thing that kind of helps is the big fence around there that the City put up as well, for aesthetics on that property.”

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A Courtenay resident named James Fisher made public comments on social media about the camp, indicating familiarity with the situation. When contacted by 98.9 The Goat, he declined to do an interview.

His publicly-made comments indicated that the owner had been approached by the Downtown Business Improvement Association about building a fence around the site, due to concerns about it being an eyesore.

“The owner agreed, on the condition that the DCBIA would be responsible for cost of erecting the fence, any maintenance required and any costs associated the removal of the fence in the future,” wrote Fisher.

“They agreed and built the fence, but failed to lock the entrance or post any “No Trespassing” signs.”

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Fisher stated that with a fence now in place, “potential squatters” had a place to put tents on a “prime site” in the middle of the downtown.

“The owner was recently approached to assist the RCMP with evicting the squatters as they were in effect “trespassing” on his property,” wrote Fisher.

“The owner’s representative in Courtenay has attended the site with the RCMP three times in the last two weeks to ask the squatters to vacate the premises, but they keep coming back. The RCMP have stated that “this is a bylaw issue”. The Courtenay bylaw officer has stated “this is a private matter”. Larry Jangula stated that the City, if necessary, could clean up the property and bill the owners. But the people would first need to move.”

The DCIBA had no comment on the matter, and directed inquiries towards the City.

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This story will be updated as the situation develops.

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