A crew of highway maintenance workers spent two days last week cleaning out the garbage and belongings left-behind by campers on the large traffic island at Saanich Road, Blanshard Street and Vernon Avenue.
The island is unique in that it has a Garry oak green space and is located on a hill that sits high above the surrounding streets and offers great levels of privacy. Though it’s in Saanich it’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure land.
Crew leader Rob Smith of Main Road, the company responsible for maintaining highway land under contract to MOTI, estimated up to six people had been living there. Evidence suggested it had been going on for quite some time. The top of the site was littered with feces. There was also evidence of a fire (on a paved path that is mostly overgrown) and drug paraphernalia.
Smith said there’s often [unsanctioned] camps along the Trans Canada Highway on the way out to Langford. There’s a couple more on the way up the Pat Bay Highway too. Wherever the trees and brush grow dense alongside the highway land that’s close to the city, people will move in.
The camps come and go. Some get up to about six people. That’s when the problems start.
Most sites are started by people who want to be by themselves, and stay under the radar, Smith said. It’s only when others join a site that it gets too big and has to be shut down.
“The problem is when the garbage starts piling up. No one can stop them from sleeping there, if they’re hidden we don’t know about them, but we will visit campers to let them know when the garbage is a problem.”
The Main Road crew cut the tree and underbrush growth of the Blanshard Street traffic island up to about eight feet high, removing the increased level of privacy that attract campers.
“It’s not our job to do welfare checks, but if we spot a site we do peek our heads in to see what’s going on. I meet the real campers, the independent types. They’re nothing like the people at Tent City.”