Signs on the private residence in Saanich, where campers were allowed to stay until Oct. 12. (Keili Bartlett/News staff)

Inside Victoria’s tent city: ‘I’m still human’

Campers share their experiences of homelessness, struggles to find housing

As she sat in camp on Oct. 12, Lynne Hibak lit a cigarette and waited to hear where she would be sleeping that night.

“We don’t know what we’re planning on doing today,” Hibak said at their location, then on Sam Seera’s private property on West Saanich Road. She’d already packed the essentials in case word to leave came soon, and now there was nothing to do but wait.

They would eventually move to Saanich Municipal Hall the next day, on the land the province offered for modular housing. The homeless camp, who call themselves Camp Namegans, has moved at least five times since Sept. 13. They were set up at Regina Park for five months with more than 100 campers, but their number has dwindled to approximately 25 people. They’ve been on the move roughly every 10 to 14 days since then.

READ MORE: Homeless campers packing to leave private Saanich property

In a survey released this month by the Captial Regional District, 77 of the 906 people facing homelessness didn’t know where they were sleeping that night. Another 158 people selected “unsheltered.” When asked if they want permanent housing, 832 of 888 people said yes.

“It’s not that we don’t want to go. The major question is where. Where do we go from here?” Deedee Patenaude, another camper, said. “We need a place. Right now it’s sunny, but it will get cold… some of our bodies will not be able to handle it.”

Hibak has been homeless for two years. She doesn’t know how long she’s been living with Camp Namegans, but it’s been since near the beginning. She and her partner have been looking for their own place so they can live together as a couple. Last week, they had a verbal agreement for an apartment, but the landlord ended up renting it to someone else. Hibak said she thinks it’s because she’s homeless and has a disability.

READ MORE: It costs less to house a person in a suite than a shelter

For Hibak, part of her disability means that when she needs to go to the bathroom, she doesn’t have much time to get there. She needs easy access to a washroom, which limits her options for housing.

“People who have medical conditions need a stable place where they can lie down, rest or they can sit and they’re close to a bathroom. [These] are things only nighttime shelters don’t offer people,” said camp leader Chrissy Brett on Oct. 12.

Brett said not knowing where they’re moving and the hours it can take to set up camp is hard on the campers.

“It’s taken a huge toll on people emotionally and physically,” Brett said. “The only thing I think does keep them together is the fact that it’s not every 10 hours, similar to those people who are being forced to live in parks and doorways.”

Hibak and Patenaude said it’s not just landlords who treat them poorly because they’re homeless.

READ MORE: Saanich couple find home in tent city

While they were leaving Goldstream campground, a group of people stood on a corner across the street, yelling at the campers as they drove away. Patenaude said the police followed them for five hours after they left Goldstream campground until they went to the private property on West Saanich Road. Hibak said they’ve been egged, had fireworks thrown into the camp and people often shout profanities at them as they drive by, yelling at them to get jobs.

“Someone was saying I am a retard because of my disability,” Hibak said. “People don’t understand that I may be different, but I’m still human. I wish people would stop calling me names. How would you feel if you had the same disability and I was calling you that?”

“Instead of the profanities, talk to us,” Patenaude said. “Come talk to us and find out who we are.

“Dehumanizing us and painting all of us with the same brush is not right, because not all of us are criminals. Not all of us do drugs, not all of us have disabilities — we’re all unique persons and that’s what makes us strong together.”

When Hibak began to cry, another woman in the camp wrapped her arms around Hibak, saying “You’re not alone, and you never will be again.”

“I want this to be the last freakin’ move,” Hibak said.

READ MORE: Homelessness experts challenge Greater Victoria candidates on finding a fix


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