Residents of new homeless camp in Saanich vow to continue their fight against homelessness, but also expect that the provincial government will be less tolerant towards them.
Camp leader Chrissy Brett said Sunday she anticipates that the province will move quickly to oust the current encampment at the corner of Ravine Way and Carey Road.
She made these comments Sunday after an official with the ministry of transportation and infrastructure had delivered a notice to the camp residents that asked them to immediately leave the site.
“Overnight camping on highway lands pose dangers to campers and to the travelling public,” reads the notice dated Sept. 15 and signed by Michael Pearson, district manager transporation, with the ministry. “All persons occupying the Lands must immediately cease their occupation, stop any overnight camping, and must remove all personal property from the Lands.”
This development stands in stark contrast to the response of the provincial government over the summer. The provincial government waited at least two months, if not longer, to deliver a notice of unauthorized occupation to the Saanich tent city known as Camp Namegans that existed for up to five months in Regina Park.
Two likely factors between the two different responses concern differences in jurisdiction and past court rulings.
While some of the encampment within Regina Park fell within provincial jurisdiction, most of it was Saanich’s responsibility.
The new site that popped up Friday lies entirely within provincial jurisdiction.
The province can also look on a recent legal victory against the camp and its residents. Justice Ward Branch earlier this month granted both the District of Saanich and the provincial government an injunction against the camp.
Saanich police enforced that injunction last week in shutting down the homeless camp. Its remaining residents departed for Rudd Park Thursday, where they slept overnight, before rallying outside Saanich Municipal Hall Friday afternoon and settling down in their new location, which they have also dubbed Camp Namegans.
“Today we’re here to say homelessness … is not a crime,” said advocate Ashley Mollison.
Residents say they are not sure how long they will say or where they can go, but do not wish to pack their belongings up each morning. By staying on the provincial piece of land, they want to escape Saanich’s new overnight sheltering bylaw that permits refuge in more than 100 parks between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m., but does not permit daytime sheltering.
Saanich Police said in a release Saturday that they had immediately contacted the ministry to see if they would provide support for the Saanich Police Department to enforce the provisions of the Trespass Act.
“To this point, [ministry officials] have not authorized police to enforce the Trespass Act and remove the encampment from the property,” said Sgt. Jereme Leslie.
“Officers have observed large quantities of furniture and materials delivered to the site and the population has quickly grown to approximately 25 tents,” he said, adding that officers have also noticed a “significantly more confrontational tone” at the new camp when compared to the camp at Regina Park.
This commentary comes after camp residents and advocates had complained about the actions of police during the enforcement of the court injunction and actions by residents leaving near Rudd Park.
“I’m very concerned about the impact that this new camp will have on local residents and businesses,” said Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell.
“You’d have to ask them what their intentions are but there is no denying we need more supportive housing options in this region, and I am committed to finding innovative solutions to this problem,” he said.