Saanich’s Regina Park, in the background, next to the Trans Canada Highway, taken from the Galloping Goose Switch Bridge next to Uptown. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Officials worry of fire risk at homeless camp

Regina Park camp has grown to 77 tents

Concerns about fire sparked authorities to swoop down on the homeless camp near Uptown Tuesday morning.

As Saanich police and firefighters watched, Saanich parks staff used a riding mower and gas-powered weed trimmers to cut back grass in Regina Park near Uptown. Authorities also asked campers to maintain a clear escape path, create more space between tents and move them away from wooden fencing.

With these measures, Saanich enforced an order that it had first issued on June 8, when it also asked campers to leave the park. Yet almost two weeks later, the camp remains as entrenched as ever before.

Saanich council will hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss the situation at Regina Park, where authorities have identified some 77 tents, against the backdrop of mounting evidence that the camp will remain for the foreseeable future.

Camp leader Chrissy Brett on Tuesday repeated earlier comments in which she compared the current encampment to a more organized version of the “original tent city” that occupied the lawn of the Victoria Provincial Courthouse from November 2015 to August 2016.

“That is what the media has termed it, and it has gone from a small prayer vigil to a continued Indigenous ceremony,” she said. “At the end of the day, in our communities and in our culture, we make sure everyone is fed, everyone has a place to sleep, even if it is a sleeping bag on the floor. Until the municipality, until the province, and Canada can step up and take care of Canadian citizens, our culture will continue on unceded, Indigenous land.”

Brett made those comments as some members of the encampment prepare to attend Thursday’s council meeting, and after a meeting with members of Saanich’s council: Mayor Richard Atwell, Coun. Fred Haynes and Coun. Karen Harper.

Brett described the two-hour long meeting at the encampment as “good,” a sentiment that Atwell echoed. “I thought it was very productive to get a first hand perspective of the conditions not only in Regina Park but as a person experiencing homelessness.”

The two sides plan to meet again towards the end of the month to discuss additional steps.

But if the atmospherics of the meeting appeared positive, both sides remain at odds about specific solutions.

While both sides confirm that they had discussed modular housing, they appear to harbour different expectations.

Comments from Brett suggest that Saanich should use the time until the next meeting to investigate the feasibility of creating modular housing in Saanich that could be available for use within six months. ‘That would be where Saanich would have to identify a place where they would be willing to rezone [land for modular housing],” she said. “The province has said ‘we have money to build – you just need to identify it [land].’”

Saanich,does not need to own the land for any future modular housing itself. It could also simply purchase private land, she said.

“I gave them the other option of giving us another piece of property,” she said. “If you don’t want us here until modular housing is built, then give me a place where you can put in … bathroom trailers similar to the tent city [in downtown Victoria], and let us house people in a more organized fashion. Bring me water, bring me bathrooms, bring me showers. If you don’t want us here, find us something somewhere else that is more fire safe or community safe.”

Atwell, for his part, does not recall Brett’s specific request for modular housing. Nor does he foresee Saanich creating modular housing anytime soon, as it could possibly take months to identify a suitable location.

“I told the group that Saanich did a site search [for modular housing] at the CRD [Capital Regional District]’s request, and identified no lands as being suitable,” he said. “I suggested that the criteria for those lands be revisited.” He is also not sure that an alternative camp site would be appropriate. “I think proper housing would be best for all.”


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