Emergency shelter advocate and mayoral candidate Ray Botten posted “no trespassing” signs on the tent outside the former VLC shelter building where he’s been living for most of the past 80 days.
Last month the city clerk endorsed his residency there, for purposes of his candidacy, as “in front of 740 Second Ave. East,” so up went the signs, Botten said.
He himself has been charged with trespassing and other offences for his sidewalk protest and fundraiser to save emergency shelter where he worked, lived and volunteered.
But Thursday a bylaw officer had him charged after he failed to remove his open-sided tent or canopy.
Botten faces a Criminal Code charge of obstructing a peace officer and will appear in the Ontario Court of Justice Aug. 30. He said he won’t plead guilty because that canopy is part of his residence recognized by the city.
Botten said he let himself be arrested to end a 90-minute stand-off Thursday. The bylaw officer removed a sign and Botten announced he would take it back to make out the obstruction charge. Officers were standing by.
Botten said he grasped the sign and tugged a little, looked at the officer and then put his wrists behind his back.
Botten and others have been living outside the shelter building since shelter residents including Botten were evicted May 29, by court order after they refused to leave.
Botten and Wayne Flett, a fellow shelter protester (and his mayoral campaign manager), said they have each been charged six times with city bylaw infractions associated with their protest. Three court dates are set so far.
Separate from that, Botten pleaded guilty twice to violating a trespass order by using a portable toilet near their street-side encampment.
One night, he said, he emerged from a portable toilet nearby and was met by a police officer who ticketed him for violating a trespass order at 4:35 a.m. Botten had been told earlier not to use the porta potty.
Twenty minutes later he had to go again. He left his bedroll and on his way to the portable toilet encountered another police officer who told him to stop, while holding up both arms, Botten said, demonstrating with his own arms. He used the toilet and was charged again.
Botten, who has no criminal record, got suspended sentences on each charge, meaning no fine.
“The judge just could not believe that we were getting something like that at 4:30 in the morning when we need to go to the washroom and we’re both diabetics,” Botten said in an interview under the canopy, which remains on the 2nd Avenue East boulevard.
Botten and Flett each pleaded guilty and got suspended sentences in provincial offences court for trespassing, for being in the alcove of the former shelter building. Botten said they ducked in out of the rain.
Nick Borchardt, the first-mortgage holder on the former shelter building, went to court last fall. He won a default judgment for the shelter property against VLC Global Ministries and its director and pastor, Randy Kennedy, for more than $235,000 in mortgage owing, interest and costs owing up to November.
The former shelter building at 748 2nd Ave. E. is for sale on Borchardt’s behalf to recoup that money. Botten and others hope it doesn’t sell before they raise enough money to pay out the first mortgage holder.
The shelter protest evolved into a fundraising campaign, which has been stalled at just above $20,000 in pledges for the past few weeks, Botten said.
During the interview Tuesday, one former shelter resident brought a plastic bag with a half-dozen sandwiches from Safe ‘n Sound, the nearby drop-in centre. Botten, Flett and another man eagerly helped themselves to them.
Botten said if the building sells before enough money is raised, he wasn’t sure what he and the seven or so protest supporters would do.
Ian MacLellan, who brought the sandwiches, noted four homeless people came through the protest site over the weekend, despite the county’s homelessness program.
Safe ‘n Sound runs Grey County’s after-hours emergency shelter placement phone line, Monday through Sunday, 4:30 to 10 p.m. The YMCA’s housing department places homeless people in emergency accommodations weekdays during business hours.
People are placed in local motel rooms for up to five days, MacLellan said.