Homeless B.C. nomads pitch tents at Oak Bay park after week at city hall
Tents are set up at the Oak bay homeless camp in Victoria, Wednesday, Oct.18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, October 19, 2017 10:21AM PDT
OAK BAY, B.C. - A nomadic group of homeless people has chosen one of Canada's wealthiest communities to pitch some tents and draw attention to housing shortages for disadvantaged people across British Columbia.
The latest location for the wandering group of 15 people is Willows Park, a seaside recreation area in the Victoria suburb of Oak Bay, known for its tea rooms, elderly population and turn-of-century mansions worth millions.
Homeless camp spokeswoman Chrissy Brett said the campers arrived Wednesday after taking down their tents at the District of Oak Bay's municipal hall. She said the campers spent seven nights on municipal property.
“Every municipality should look at currently having a municipal campground available,” she said. “This is more comfortable here than wandering the streets.”
Brett spoke as a pelting rain with gusting winds threatened to lift her tent from its supports, while large waves crashed upon the nearby beach.
“The government needs to recognize Canadian citizens who are homeless,” she said. “In Canada, you're a fourth-world person in a first-world country if you are Indigenous or homeless.”
Brett said the group has camped in various Victoria-area communities for the past seven weeks, moving every seven days. She said the group spent three weeks at different locations in Victoria, two weeks in nearby Saanich and will be in Oak Bay for at least two weeks.
Oak Bay's deputy police chief said the community is well aware of the campers and police have been on the watch, but so far it has been peaceful.
Ray Bernoties said Oak Bay's bylaws do not permit overnight camping in municipal parks, but since the campers have said they'll move within seven days police will wait and watch the situation.
“We're constantly reassessing and we'll continue to do that and in the meantime we're monitoring and liaising on a regular basis as we are with the neighbours,” he said. “So far there have been no violent incidents, no property damage. There have been no noise complaints. At this time I'm inclined to wait them out and hope they keep their word.”
Brett said the municipalities have tolerated the campers in every location. She acknowledged that B.C. municipalities have been bearing the brunt of homeless issues as provincial and federal governments cast off housing issues to communities.
The provincial housing minister wasn't immediately available to comment.
Brett was a long-time resident of Victoria's tent city homeless camp on provincial property at the city's downtown law courts.
The camp saw more than 100 homeless people build a village of tents, fences and fires on provincial property in the middle of an affluent, tree-lined downtown neighbourhood.
Neighbours complained of rats and used syringes, while the residents and homeless activists said the camp was a real-life snapshot of the lack of shelter space and housing for vulnerable people.
The first tents arrived at the courthouse lawn in November, 2015, and the final tent did not come down until mid-August of this year.
B.C. spent more than $25-million to purchase and renovate properties to provide over 190 spaces for homeless people in Victoria, including shelter and living units at a former youth jail, a community centre and a former seniors' care facility.
Bernoties said the campers have been a topic of conversation in Oak Bay.
“I can tell you Oak Bay people have been very compassionate towards the situation and the camp has indeed increased awareness and conversations in coffee shops in Oak Bay,” he said.