Chrissy Brett, one of the leaders of the tent city at Regina Park, meets with representatives from Saanich Police and Saanich Fire Wednesday morning to discuss safety on the site, now home for some 75 people. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Homeless camp leaders dig in for long fight

Organizer expects tent city to remain in Saanich’s Regina Park through Labour Day

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.

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Ashley Mollison, a community organizer with the Alliance against Displacement, visits the tent city at Regina Park two to three times a week. Residents have taken to call it Camp Namegans (We Are All One).

Just Posted

COVID-19: UVic Engineering to 3-D print 4,000 face-shields for frontline workers

Team working to ensure Island health care workers have personal protective equipment

Mental Health: Erasing stigma leads to new path for Victoria woman

Paula Roumeliotis struggled with bipolar disorder for 35 years before finding support

Health care workers gain access to virtual health care options

During COVID-19 many clinics have closed, leaving health care workers with nowhere to turn

Trudeau rejects mandatory stay-at-home order for now; COVID deaths up

The virus has now infected more than 10,000 Canadians and cost 130 their lives

POLL: Will you be able to make your rent or mortgage payment this month?

With the COVID-19 delivering a devastating blow to the global economy, and… Continue reading

Tax collectors, auditors to help field ‘historic’ numbers of benefit-seeking callers

‘If you work for CRA, people think we are just there to take money from your pockets.’

Family uses social media to help truckers find places to eat during pandemic

Restaurants Serving Drivers in Western Canada seeks to provide a list of places open for drivers

Advocates sound alarm over COVID-19 limiting access to contraceptives, abortion

The COVID-19 outbreak has hit sexual-health services from almost every angle

Cowichan couple won’t self-isolate after returning from overseas

New law requires 14 days of self-isolation when returning to Canada

B.C. health officer says homemade masks may prevent spread of COVID-19 to others

Practising physical distancing, frequent hand washing and resisting touching your face are proven methods

B.C.’s senior home staff measures show results in COVID-19 battle

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s order restricts care aides to one facility

Independent investigation praises RCMP actions in Vancouver Island suicide attempt

Man hurt in incident that took place near Nanoose Bay in September of 2019

Most Read