Local reactions to a provincial decision concerning supportive housing in Saanich has varied from outrage to quiet resignation.
The provincial government informed the District of Saanich that it considers a piece of municipal-owned land unsuitable for supportive housing. Saanich had offered the land in exchange for supportive housing to help homelessness in the region as manifested by the homeless camp that had occupied Regina Park for several months over the summer.
An official with the provincial ministry of housing said Wednesday afternoon that the steep slope of the property, construction and placement of the modular units would require significant engineering and construction in explaining the decision of the government, which promised to keep working with Saanich to find suitable alternate land on which housing can be built.
Mayor Richard Atwell appeared to downplay the significance of the provincial decision when he said that the offered piece of land was not the most suitable in making case again for turning the former Emily Carr library near the Saanich News into supportive housing.
Coun. Fred Haynes, who is running against Atwell for mayor and serves as a director on the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, said the provincial decision disappointed him.
“I believe this land met the requirements asked,” he said. “Saanich has been working hard on this file. I think everyone realizes that the Saanich hosts the largest number of supported units in the region, and we are working to continue this in a responsible way.”
He also disagreed with Atwell’s recommendation concerning the former Emily Carr library. The building, located in Saanich’s retail and commercial centre and the location for future housing, services and economic activity, would be unsuitable, said Haynes. “Tying this location up for temporary modular housing would be irresponsible,” he said.
Haynes also expressed disappointment that neither the federal nor provincial government have stepped up with land they own in Saanich.
Rob Wickson, who is also running for mayor, said Saanich must look at all land options.
“This housing crisis needs any vacant land even on a temporary basis, realizing land can be repurposed at a later date,” he said. “I thought the [ministry of infrastructure and transportation] land between Carey and Highway 17 would have been a good place. Why don’t we have the [federal government] partner with the province and municipality by bringing in the [Canadian Armed Forces] to show us how to set up a temporary camp with the proper safe facilities. This is a national crisis.”
Various candidates for councillor, meanwhile, shared their disappointment and ideas for solving the homeless problem.
— Rishi Sharma (@Rishi_ss) October 11, 2018
“Very unfortunate but hopefully back to searching for appropriate land right away,” said Rishi Sharma.
Appropriate land and or buildings MUST be found.
— Kathleen Burton (@kathelburt) October 11, 2018
“Appropriate land and or buildings must be found,” tweeted Kathleen Burton, who is running on United for Saanich.
Members of the public also weighed in by pointing out empty lots, drawing responses from local officials.
Is this still government building? This parking lot is always fairly empty or being rented out to store cars/trucks. Just up from @saanich city hall. Feel it could accommodate temp housing. @AtwellRichard @ColinPlant2018 pic.twitter.com/OWdTly7Ysf
— 🅶🆄🆂 🆃🅷🅴 🅱🆄🆂 🅳🆁🅸🆅🅴🆁 (@busdriverlife) October 11, 2018
I believe it is provincial land.
— Colin Plant (@ColinPlant2018) October 11, 2018
News of the provincial decision also resonated among advocates of the homeless individuals, who had stayed at the homeless camp in Regina Park, ostensibly the reason by Saanich’s decision to seek supportive housing.
“Another empty offer from the District of Saanich!? Shocking,” tweeted Ashley Mollison of the Alliance Against Displacement.