The leader of Namegans Nation, the roving homeless camp that moved to a piece of provincial land near municipal hall in Saanich expects to be gone by Tuesday, with plans to next set up somewhere Premier John Horgan won’t be able to ignore them.
Chrissy Brett made these comments Sunday, less than 24 hours after she and some 20-plus Namegans residents moved the camp back to Saanich, onto land owned by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure along Highway 17.
“If the province really wants to pick a fight with us, we may end up in John Horgan’s backyard,” said Brett, adding ministry officials dropped by the site Sunday morning to take pictures, but no one reached out directly to the camp residents nor issued any directives.
Lindsay Byers, a spokesperson for the ministry of municipal affairs and housing, told the Saanich News late Sunday afternoon that the province will ask camp residents to leave.
“Their new location in Saanich is not a workable or long-term solution for anyone,” she said. “Highway land is not a safe location for camping, and campers will be asked to leave the highway right of way.”
Byers said all of the campers received offers of shelter. “Unfortunately, while some took up the offer, the majority turned down the offered shelter spaces,” she said.
“We continue to hope that these campers will reconsider and take advantage of shelter options, while we work on longer-term housing supports,” she added later. “BC Housing and other outreach workers will continue to offer campers help accessing a shelter or other supports.”
The camp had initially set up beside municipal hall, to send a message about Saanich’s failure to deliver on supportive housing. They left that site for the current location Saturday afternoon, when Saanich Police forced them out.
Saanich police moving campers out of the parking lot of Saanich Municipal Hall. Namegans members moving tents to grass beside highway. #namegansnation #saanich #yyj #campnamegans pic.twitter.com/WxNOpi5BJt— Keri Coles (@KeriColesPhotog) October 14, 2018
At the time Brett said, they where setting up “where Saanich offered the province to give up this land for modular housing and seeing as how we have nowhere else to go, we figured here would be the best place to take a stand that people need more than 25 mats for the 34 people.”
The group had previously been living at a property on West Saanich Road, where they had hoped to stay until Oct. 20.
Returning to provincial land echoes the events of last month when the group set up on land also owned by the ministry, near Carey Road and Ravine Way following their departure from Regina Park – by way of Rudd Park – where they had been since April.
Saanich police, aided by officers from other departments, eventually dismantled the Rudd Park camp Sept. 18, three days after its emergence.
That triggered a series of developments that brought the camp to Goldstream Provincial Park, then to the West Saanich Road property, which they left Oct. 12.
The return of Namegans Nation just steps away from Municipal Hall comes just days before voters will elect a new council Oct. 20. Their presence draws attention to the one issue that has ostensibly dominated the campaign – affordable housing.
Just last week, the municipality offered the province land in exchange for supportive housing, and was denied.
Saanich Police say they will continue to monitor the campers and Sgt. Jeremie Leslie confirmed the department has been in contact with the province.
“The Saanich Police will continue dialogue with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and provide them with support if [and] when requested,” he said.
Mayor Richard Atwell said Sunday he is waiting for an update from Saanich Police.
While the camp’s current location is near a temporary sanitation station the district set up in July as a response to the Regina Park camp, Atwell’s comments suggest he does not think the current location of the camp is an appropriate one, saying “the shelter spaces at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre setbup for their use should also be utilized.”
The Saanich News contacted the ministry for comment and will update the story accordingly.