A homeless man who’s been staying in Oaklands Park had all his belongings taken by the City of Victoria on Friday as he’s trying to help himself and others on the streets transition into better opportunities through a new initiative.
The solar-powered, mobility scooter-propelled cart that Cody (C.J.) Poole has been living in for four months was among the items taken.
“It’s extremely frustrating because I can’t really do anything anymore – they took everything away from me, all my tools, I have nothing left,” he said. “They want us to do better but how can we when they keep stealing our (expletive).”
The city on Friday told Black Press Media that bylaw officers attended the park in response to complaints that sheltering rules weren’t being followed and they impounded property for that reason.
Amy Allard, the lived experience coordinator at Sea Spring Mental Wellness Coalition, has been helping Poole and a group of other handy unhoused folks as they try to find a secure warehouse or industrial yard space to build micro-living carts and also offer services like bike repairs. The initiative hopes to help cut down on bike theft in the city and transition people into legal work.
They’ve received overwhelming support since word of the initiative came out as seniors have offered to donate old mobility scooters and carpenters have expressed interest in helping craft the cart designs, Allard said. Excitement was growing as they secured a garage to house Poole’s cart and had a trailer ready to transport it from the park on the weekend.
Allard noted she’s spoken to bylaw about how the move from the park was imminent, despite their few resources, and there was an understanding with officers that things were moving fast. She said the city officials usually tell individuals they have around 10 minutes to pack their things in the morning, but bylaw showed up with a truck and immediately cordoned off the area on June 23.
As she regularly takes calls from bylaw and was chatting with officers on Thursday who were supportive of the cause, Allard said they would’ve tried to expedite moving plans even further if they got even brief notice of Friday’s enforcement.
“He was just so hurt and was trying to say to them ‘I’m trying to do the right thing, I’m trying to turn my life around and work with you guys,’” she said, noting Poole had her on speaker phone during the incident.
“They don’t want the homeless to do better. That’s why I was trying to do this whole thing, to make that change,” Poole said of their Wheels not Steals initiative.
The city on Friday said impounding property is a last resort after all other compliance strategies are exhausted, adding property can be retrieved upon request within 30 days. Attempts on Saturday and Sunday to retrieve Poole’s belongings, and learn if any of them had been thrown out, were unsuccessful Allard said.
After this story was posted, the city responded to a morning request for comment to say the impound was returned on Monday.
Allard said she spoke to a bylaw supervisor Friday who said they were just impounding the items.
“That’s not the point, the point is you have people here who have taken months and months to rebuild their trust to even consider working collaboratively – trying to move to a legal lifestyle and trying to have good relations with bylaw and police and then this is how we’re treated,” she said.
“I don’t know how you rebuild trust after this.”
The enforcement’s timing came just days after Poole’s photo and location were posted to a Victoria Facebook group cataloguing alleged bike thieves. The post was later removed after Allard informed the user of their initiative.
Allard interacts with some very kind bylaw and police officers but has also crossed paths with some individuals in those ranks who are not so nice. On Friday, she heard responding officials hurling insults at Poole, and both Allard and Poole said the officials were saying the city and mayor would never work with the initiative.
Poole added that he stepped in front of his cart at one point and a bylaw officer put their hands on him, and that the officer admitted to touching him first.
The city didn’t address the alleged incidents when asked about them, but on Friday said it hadn’t received any complaints about staff conduct.