A community organizer involved with the tent city in Regina Park near Uptown predicts it will still be in place on Labour Day.
“At this stage, they [Saanich] will have to take legal actions,” said Ashley Mollison, a community organizer with the Alliance against Displacement, a grassroots organization that organizes with communities facing displacement in British Columbia.
Mollison made these comments in an interview about Saanich’s pending ban on overnight camping in certain public parks, and Nanaimo’s recent decision to file an injunction against a growing tent city in that community.
This development has raised the question whether Saanich will follow course, almost a month after it issued an eviction notice on June 8 to the campers.
”The Regina Park encampment is an evolving legal matter, and as such there are limits on the information that we can share publicly,” said Megan Catalano, a Saanich spokesperson.”I’m not able to offer further comment at this time.”
According to Mollison, some 75 people currently live in the camp, which now bears the name of Camp Namegans (We Are All One). Since it popped up in May, the camp has grown in size, while generating controversy against the backdrop of statistics that show calls for police service and actual crimes around the camp have spiked.
According to Saanich Police, calls for service between May 1 and June 25 in the area have nearly doubled, rising to 421, compared to 254 for the same period last year. Property crimes have risen to 70 from 25 for the same period.
Camp residents, however, have pushed back against this narrative. “Repeat after us,” reads a Facebook post. “Calls for service do not equal crime. Police presence does not equal crime. Fear of homeless people does not equal crime. An improperly discarded needle does not equal crime. Time to beat that stigma with some facts.”
Efforts to find a solution remain ongoing, but have so far yielded few, if any, tangible outcomes, following a special council meeting last month. This said, Saanich next week will ratify a ban on overnight camping in certain parks including Cuthbert Holmes Park but not Regina Park.
While Gabe Epstein, president of the Gorge-Tillicum Community Association, has praised this move, Mollison said it sends the clear messsage that Saanich does not care about the homeless.
“It’s a punitive response to homelessness,” she said. “When [Saanich] bans camping, they are increasing harms to homeless people.”
The ban is expensive and ineffective, because it does not address the larger causes of homelessness – the absence of affordable housing, which is getting worse as gentrification continues, said Mollison.
Some supporters of the ban have previously argued many individuals camping in parks like Cuthbert Holmes are not genuinely homeless, but Mollison does not buy it.
“That’s an absoluate fallacy,” she said. “Nobody I have met in my many years as an advocate has ever told me that they have chosen to be homeless.”
A survey shows some 1,500 individuals are homeless in the region.
“The shelters are full, but they are not always appropriate,” she said.
The homeless may avoid shelters for several reasons. They have may have bad experiences with shelters, they may not be appropriate for their needs, they may not allow pets, or they may not allow partners, she said.
Tent cities like Camp Namegans in this sense have real value in serving as a refuge, said Mollison, who encourages Saanich to find space for a permanent tent city with facilities such as lockers and showers.
“May be not that space [Regina Park], but there needs to be a space that works,” she said.
Mollison, who visits the camp two to three times a week, said camp leaders continue to work with authorities to ensure the camp remains safe. Camp leaders are also planning a community barbecue later this month, she said.
Overall, she estimates public support for the camp runs even.
“There are more supporters than you think,” she said.