Mayor Richard Atwell said he would like see to a “quick end” to the homeless camp that has sprung up near Uptown, but also cautioned against heightened expectations as Saanich responds to concerns from the nearby camp. One of its spokesperson, meanwhile, repeated demands for Saanich to create more affordable housing.
Speaking with local media including Saanich News, Atwell said he hopes the camp in Regina Park does not stay for the summer. “It’s very unfair on the neighbours,” he said.
Atwell added later that the camp could also pose a fire hazard as the dry summer months approach. At the same time, he expressed sympathy for the campers, and said Saanich has no plans to push the camp to neighbouring communities.
“We need to find some solution that is going to get people out of the park, and into some proper accommodations,” he said.
He stressed though that this “won’t happen overnight.” It would also have to involve senior levels of government, said Atwell, who plans to meet the local MLA Rob Fleming to discuss options.
According to Megan Catalano, a spokesperson for the District of Saanich, the municipality has received less than 20 letters, emails and phone calls from residents about Regina Park.
“Of the correspondence and inquiries we’ve received, many have expressed concern about public safety in the area surrounding Regina Park and asked questions about our plans to deal with the encampment,” she said. “Some correspondence has taken the position of advocate for homelessness and housing issues.”
This commentary echoes concerns that the Saanich News has heard from residents living the area. In correspondence to the Saanich News, one resident has complained about an “increase of theft.”
“Some of us have been the target of verbal threats, racial taunts, property damage and an uneasy feeling about our safety,” wrote another resident.
Sgt. Jereme Leslie said Saanich Police have received complaints from the public about the camp. “However, a number of these complaints are general inquiries which the District of Saanich is able to answer,” he said.
Year-to-date calls in this area and the surrounding neighbourhood have gone up about 13 per cent, said Leslie.
“From May 1 through to [June 4] the biggest “jump” is theft from vehicles,” he said. “We had one last year and five this year. There’s also a sizable increase of “assist public” calls – 11 last year and 35 this year. The assist public calls really can range in what they actually are; however, there’s no criminal activity scored in these files.”
Leslie said it is important for the public to know that Saanich Police have increased patrols in the area.”We’ve even assigned officers to specifically focus on Regina Park and the surrounding neighbourhoods,” he said. “We’re hopeful this enhanced focus, and with residents help by calling in suspicious activities, we’ll be able to deal with criminal activity in the area.”
Chrissy Brett, one of the leaders of the camp, said Saanich needs to step up if it wants to find a solution.
“We have 57 people who are registered, and you can build 90 units [of modular housing] in 90 days,” she said. “That would be a quick end.”
Responding to Atwell’s concerns about fire, Brett said she is encouraging Saanich to find a more suitable place in the district for the campers, like a municipal campground, until a permanent solution has emerged.
As for concerns from the neighbours, Brett offered this response. “When we in Canada consider ourselves a First World country, and yet, can make homeless and Indigenous people live in Third World conditions, they can continue to say what they need to say. But in our culture, nobody is left behind.”