The old Emily Carr library branch at 3500 Blanshard St. has been vacant since December 2013, leaving Saanich with a $24,000 annual bill to cover operating costs. Saanich now plans to spend renovate the building. (Black Press File).

Housing advocate questions municipality’s proposed renovation of former Emily Carr library

Marilou Gagnon says Saanich was never serious about helping the Regina Park homeless

An advocate for homeless says Saanich’s decision to use the former Emily Carr library for its own staff appears consistent with Saanich’s actions.

Marilou Gagnon, a registered nurse and an associate professor in UVic’s School of Nursing, who is also president of the Harm Reduction Nurses Association, made that observation, when asked about Saanich’s plan to renovate the empty building for its own use.

A report recommends Saanich spend $2.1 million for upgrades to the building in the 3500 block of Blanshard Street, as well as municipal hall and its annex.

RELATED: Saanich plans to turn former Emily Carr library into office space

The recommendation marks a turning point in the history of the building, because it confirms and consolidates the presence of municipal staff in the building, eliminating — at least for now — other options for its use.

“The idea of using it for people who are homeless was raised at some point but I don’t think ever seriously considered,” said Gagnon in reference to plans from former mayor Richard Atwell, who had proposed turning the building into temporary housing for residents of the tent city that had sprung up in nearby Regina Park.

The proposal surprised staff and council in failing to get support. But it remained a source of controversy during the municipal election campaign that eventually ended in the election of current Mayor Fred Haynes, who opposed Atwell’s idea, after he was initially prepared to vote in favour of researching it.

RELATED: Saanich mayor pitches former Emily Carr library as housing site

This June 21 vote happened three days after Saanich informed the public that it would look into using the building for additional office space following a facilities review.

The homeless population remained in Regina Park until the middle of September, after which its remaining residents moved around the region, following a court decision in favour of Saanich and the provincial government.

“It is pretty obvious Saanich had no plans to help homeless people,” said Gagnon. “They took them to [B.C. Supreme Court] and chased them around until the point of exhaustion. People who were at tent city have been back on the street for a while now. This decision seems to be aligned with the rest of the decisions made by Saanich so far.”

Earlier this fall, Saanich offered land to the province in exchange for supportive housing, but the provincial government rejected the land after an assessment deemed it unsuitable.

RELATED: Province says Saanich-owned land unsuitable for supportive housing

“I still think that the former Emily Carr library is what council should put forth in good faith if we truly want to move forward with modular housing,” Atwell said on Oct. 10.

An official with the ministry of municipal affairs and housing speaking on background said the ministry and the municipality considered “multiple locations” while neither confirming nor denying that the former library was among them.

Since those discussions happened during in-camera meetings closed to the public, BC Housing could not reveal those locations, the official said, adding that BC Housing looks forward to discussing potential supportive housing locations with the new mayor and council.

Megan Catalano, a Saanich spokesperson, said Saanich previously offered access to land at the Municipal Hall campus for modular supportive housing units. “We continue to work with the provincial government to find land on which supportive modular housing can be built,” she said.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

Just Posted

Lengthy cannabis report leaves Sooke council with questions

Temporary use option for pot producers seen as untenable

Jeff McArthur suspends Sooke council bid

Former Mountie second candidate to withdraw from race

Sooke council threatens to close long-time business

Driver’s Welding application for a temporary zoning variance denied

Wet conditions put the brakes on Sean Driver’s speed record

Sooke car enthusiast heading back to Bonneville in October

Former Canadian Chief Justice talks shop in Sidney

Beverly McLachlin served 28 years on the Supreme Court of Canada, including 17 as Chief Justice.

Shambhala named best music festival in North America

Shambhala Music Festival is held at the Salmo River Ranch in B.C.

B.C. MLA calls on province to restrict vaping as first related illness appears in Canada

Todd Stone, Liberal MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson, introduced an anti-vaping bill in April

Chilliwack woman wins right to medically assisted death after three-year court battle

Julia Lamb has been the lead plaintiff in a legal battle to ease restrictions on Canada’s assisted dying laws

Sooke athletes win gold at 55+ Games

Myrtle Acton, 86, leads way with three first place finishes

NDP, Liberals promise more spending, while Tories promise spending cuts

Making life more affordable for Canadians a focus in the 2019 election

UPDATE: Police probe third threat against a Kamloops high school in eight days

Police have not released any further details into what the threat includes

Charges dropped against Mountie involved in shooting death of Surrey man

‘I feel like I’ve lost Hudson all over again,’ says mom

B.C. Interior caribou protection area big enough, minister says

Proposals sparked protest in Kootenays, Williams Lake region

Two B.C. women selected to compete on ABC’s The Bachelor

Mykenna Dorn and Alexis Thind will compete for bachelor Peter Weber’s heart

Most Read