A police command centre has set up at Goldstream Provincial Park in Langford on Vancouver Island as homeless campers forced from green space in Saanich fear they are once again being pushed out.
Organizer Chrissy Brett said the Environment Ministry arrived after 5 p.m. Wednesday night and closed the park to all but registered campers. She said the park will be closed at 11 a.m. today to everyone, just two days after the campers arrived. Police had yet to confirm this Thursday morning.
Langford Mayor Stew Young signalled that his community would not put out the welcome mat for homeless campers who moved to Goldstream park on Tuesday evening.
A frustrated Young said he received hundreds of complaints by Wednesday from residents who are concerned about break-ins and drug use.
“The public is absolutely fed up. They know these are not just campers looking for a home. They’re in there stealing. They’re doing drugs. They leave needles everywhere,” said Young. “I can tell you, parents are already telling me their kids will never go in there again because you’ll never find all the needles, all the drugs and all the opioids.”
Young said he was “very disappointed” he didn’t get a call from the provincial government to let him know the campers were moving to the provincial park on the edge of his municipality.
“Housing Minister Selina Robinson was on the news talking about it. But no courtesy call to me saying ‘Guess what? We’re actually paying for them to go to a provincial park.’ If that’s their solution for homelessness, we have a really big problem, a bigger problem than I thought,” said Young.
The government provides free camping at B.C. Parks to people who receive disability assistance through the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. The campers said they are planning to spend the next two weeks in the park to regroup and recuperate.
The government should have been better prepared after a homeless camp on the Victoria courthouse lawn cost taxpayers $3 million in legal fees and site cleanup, said Young. It’s estimated the tent city at Regina Park will cost Saanich taxpayers $1 million.
“The province should have been out in front of this in the first place,” said Young. “They’re not being responsible. Before they started moving people to a provincial park, there should have been some dialogue with police, council, my staff and myself. We got caught.”
Young has met with West Shore RCMP and senior staff to consider what to do to keep the community safe.
“Whoever thought of this is an absolute idiot,” he fumed.
A statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said B.C. Parks staff will monitor the situation at Goldstream Park.
“While we understand this is not an ideal location, it is a safer location than the highway right of way where the campers were living previously.”
The goal is to get people into shelters and long-term housing.
“Solving this will require partnerships with regional and local government leaders to build appropriate and affordable housing. Unfortunately, while we already have 2,000 new modular homes in development across B.C., only one site for 21 units was identified in Victoria, and no other local governments within the CRD have identified land where we could build these homes.”
Young said staff from four ministries — Municipal Affairs and Housing, Mental Health and Addiction, the Attorney General, and Social Development and Poverty Reduction — should form a provincial action assessment team that goes out every day to help marginalized people.
“There’s so much money out there. Get out of your office and go work for these people. I don’t need a thousand people working in an office when the problem is out here, or in Saanich or in Victoria. Help them. Make sure they get the help they need. Find out where their families are,” said Young, who called the situation a crisis.
Putting 100 modular units in the middle of a neighbourhood for five years is stupid, said Young.
“They’re not going to solve the problem long-term. Build proper housing and build it faster and do it all over the province.”
The RCMP will do their job and uphold the law, said Young.
“They will arrest people if they are doing drugs. If anything is going on, they will uphold the law.”
Dean Fortin, executive director of Pacifica Housing, said outreach workers did more than 100 vulnerability assessments when the campers lived in Regina Park.
“These aren’t a bunch of advocates with social privilege trying to raise a point. The vast majority of individuals who made up the camp were suffering from mental health and addictions. They are already classified by the ministry as people with disabilities. They have many challenges.”
More than 10 people from Regina Park have been placed in supportive housing, said Fortin.
Outreach staff will go to Goldstream, meet with the campers, understand their needs and see if they can help move them into permanent housing.
“It’s not a bad thing to have gone to Goldstream because they’re not under the constant threat of being displaced and made to move on. … The ability to just have two weeks of peace, and for us, as a service provider, that’s two weeks of us working to find a more permanent solution,” said Fortin.
Earlier, at Goldstream Park on Wednesday morning, sunlight streamed through the massive trees. The campers were enjoying their peaceful surroundings.
“It was so quiet last night, I heard an owl hoot,” said Lynne Hibak.
“I heard other people snoring,” said Lance Larsen. “I never heard that at the other camp because there was too much noise and it was drowned out by all the activity. If you have really good hearing, in the dead of night, you can hear the water trickling and the hiss of the waterfall.”
“No window warriors yelling at us,” said Don, who didn’t want his last name in the newspaper.
The campers said they were driven to the park by supporters.
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