Vernon Lord, a candidate for councillor in Saanich, says the region can help the homeless by carving out a public space for them.
“I believe the answer is we have to allocate an area,” he said. “I don’t know where that area is right now, because it would take consultation with the residents of the Saanich, Saanich council, lawyers, [and so on]. But we need to designate an area for a park, a transient park. We can call what we want, but the point is Saanich needs to get ahead of it.”
Saanich cannot merely react to homeless camps as they spring up, he said. “I understand they have terrible issues, and they have to be addressed,” he said. But Saanich cannot constantly shift its resources from one location to the next location, he said. “We have to designate an area, so that area is safe for the campers, and safe for the residents.”
Lord made these comments as he was standing outside the fence that has cordoned off Regina Park from the public. For five months, it was the site of a camp that housed more than 100 individuals at its peak, before Saanich police closed it down, following a court ruling.
Camp leaders suggested in the past that Camp Namegans as they called their camp, could become Canada’s first urban reserve and authorities in the Greater Victoria region including Saanich have mused about the possibility of carving out a space where homeless could shelter overnight.
Lord acknowledged these past efforts, but laments the absence of follow through. “But was there any consultation?” he asked. “Did the camp leaders [consult]? And it wouldn’t just be Saanich. It would be the entire 13 [municipalities]. We need a place. We need to work together, and come up with a place. Maybe it’s in Saanich. Maybe it’s in Victoria.”
During Thursday’s first all-candidates’ forum, Lord said he entered the race because he wants to be a voice for residents who live near homeless camps.
“These people are always overlooked, and all the focus is on the transients or the homeless,” he said. “I never, ever said that the homeless don’t need to be taken care of. We need to open our hearts and our wallets, and our compassion. That goes without saying. But I’m just saying we need to apply that same philosophy to these people here also.”
So what have been the appropriate response?
Lord said authorities across the region should have started to address the issue of homelessness years ago, when the homeless camp in downtown Victoria appeared.
Lord enters the race as an unknown figure in municipal affairs, something he readily acknowledged during Thursday’s all-candidates forum.
The married father of four arrived in Saanich some 14 months ago from the Portland area after having lived and worked across different parts of Canada and the United States. But Lord does not consider his status as a recent arrival a detriment. In fact, he plans to drawn heavily on the urban development lessons that he has learned from living on either side of the border, especially when it comes to managing and avoiding the worst effects of urban booms.
For Lord, who has lived in communities large and small, Saanich has become a special place.
“I have never felt more at home than I have [in Saanich], and I have lived in many places,” he said. “Sometimes, it just feels right. This is truly a special place, and it has to be preserved, especially rural Saanich. That is our legacy … and we need to protect it at all costs.”