Saanich mayor pitches former Emily Carr library as housing site

Saanich mayor pitches former Emily Carr library as housing site

Residents share concerns, support over Regina Park tent city

Saanich Council turned down a surprise motion by Mayor Richard Atwell to consider the former Emily Carr library as a potential housing site for occupants of the Regina Park tent city.

Atwell made the motion at Thursday night’s special meeting, an impromptu session he instigated as mayor two weeks ago so council could hear from members of the public about the encampment at Regina Park, which has now grown to a reported 77 tents.

The special meeting drew a divisive crowd. Many expressed concerns of safety and had little sympathy for the occupants living in Regina Park, claiming crime rates have risen, that people were invading cars and carports alike, and asked Saanich to enforce bylaws, which would effectively force out the occupants to find emergency shelter elsewhere. Others suggested dignity and sympathy, and called for either a solution through housing or to at least supply running water and temporary showers.

See: Nomadic tent city moves into Caddy Bay

See: Roaming tent city lands in Colwood

Members of the tent city also spoke, including Ryan Williams, who grew up in the area and has been living on the street off-and-on for a decade.

“Your kids are safe, you know,” he said. “If there’s someone crawling over your fence, come talk to one of us, it will be stopped right away, this is not the first tent city. I just want to say thank you for the help.”

The encampment started in early May as a roaming tent city with less than a dozen tents.

Thursday night also happened to be the fourth straight night of council meetings in Saanich, which held regular council session on Monday, a public hearing on Tuesday and an in-camera meeting with Saanich Police on Wednesday.

The session started with dozens of residents, some who are living at Regina Park, most from the nearby area, and others from within the Greater Victoria community, such as Khalela Bell, an outreach worker for people experiencing homelessness.

“This is a very difficult thing to do, it’s painful to watch,” Bell said. “I’ve heard stories from people coming from a welfare office to my office saying, it was suggested I go buy a tent.”

Bell said it’s a matter of survival.

“People are pairing up for survival so they’re things don’t get stolen or taken by bylaw, we have women sleeping alone in parks, it creates a situation where homelessness creates a dangerous environment.

“People from the public are saying, ‘Really, a tent city,’ and I’m here to say yes, a tent city. We are at that point. People need to be banding together forming community and taking care of each other.”

Ashley Mollison, from the Alliance Against Displacement, said tent cities can be a place for transformation, a place where some people find their first chance to go to a medical office, or to look for a job, as the community of a tent city affords people a chance to leave behind their belongings without worry of theft.

After two hours of speakers, Atwell made a pair of motions. Council, which was absent of Vicki Sanders, Judy Brownoff and Dean Murdock, voted in favour to have Saanich write a letter to B.C. Housing about working to find a solution for the residents of Regina Park. Atwell’s second motion, however, was contested, and lost 4-2 to Couns. Colin Plant, Fred Haynes, Leif Wergeland and Susan Brice, with Karen Harper in support.

“We are not far enough along in the conversation to know exactly what [occupants of Regina Park] want,” said Coun. Fred Haynes. “Do they want housing in the old Emily Carr, because I’m not sure that’s what they want.”

Atwell had to interrupt the speakers early on Thursday as members of the gallery clapped in support of area resident Matt Sasaki’s comments. Sasaki urged council “to deal with this right away” and enforce bylaws, which would force the occupants to “move on or abide,” which, are technically the same thing, as the District’s vacate notice on site says people with no other shelter may sleep in the park from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. only but must then remove their belongings.

Coun. Colin Plant noted the chambers emptied from being completely full to just three gallery members when Atwell’s

motions were debated amongst council.

“I don’t know why people left,” Plant said. “Maybe they were tired. Maybe they didn’t want to watch council got through the mechanics of motions, or maybe they didn’t know there would be motions [because no motions were on the agenda].

“When you hear from the residents, you hear how important it is that we find a solution as soon as possible,” Plant added.

Haynes was among those who criticized Atwell for not alerting council that he would bring up the former Emily Carr site, a property Saanich owns at 3500 Blanshard across from Uptown mall, as a potential site to house people experiencing homelessness.

“Council chambers is the place where council debates issues, and I can’t think of a more pressing issue to debate than a homeless camp in Saanich,” Atwell said. “It’s been there two months now and it’s about time council take a leadership role to identify housing. I don’t think this property should be left out of the mix.”

Haynes admitted he was about to vote in favour of researching the former Emily Carr site as a housing option but changed his mind.

“There is no supported history that council responds well on proposals about land assets with little or no research ahead of time,” Haynes said.

Just last week, Saanich Council heard a report from staff to house Saanich staff at the Emily Carr site so the municipal hall can undergo renovations.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

reporter@saanichnews.com

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

 

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell has surprised council with a motion suggesting the former Emily Carr library site be used for housing in response to the tent city at Regina Park. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell has surprised council with a motion suggesting the former Emily Carr library site be used for housing in response to the tent city at Regina Park. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Just Posted

Starting in June, Government Street will be closed to most vehicles between Humboldt and View streets. A section of Government Street was transformed into a pedestrian-priority walkway in the wake of COVID-19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria plans 10-hour closures of Government Street come June

City’s business relief plan extended, Government St. from Humboldt to View closed noon to 10 p.m.

Cyclists cruised around Saanich at the 2017 Cycling Festival. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich scavenger hunt replaces annual Cycling Festival

Participants encouraged to ‘walk or roll’ to 20 secret sites, submit photo proof for prizes

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

A member of the Belmont Secondary School in Langford has tested positive for COVID-19, the Sooke School District announced Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Positive COVID-19 case identified at Belmont Secondary School in Langford

Other school members could’ve been exposed on April 20

This photo shows crews the fire at 7987 Galbraith Cres. that caused extensive damage and displaced six residents early Sunday morning. (Central Saanich Fire/Department Twitter)
Central Saanich rallies around couple who lost home of 25 years

A GoFundMe campaign is currently underway for Carla and Brian Wallace

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Most Read