Police enforce government order to shut down new tent city in Saanich
Police moved in and shut down a Saanich tent city that sprang up on provincial land days after a similar encampment was dismantled, leaving many campers to question where they might go next.
Reports first surfaced of a major police presence at the tent city, off Ravine Way and the Pat Bay Highway, early Tuesday morning.
The entire encampment was surrounded by police tape and dozens of police from Saanich, Central Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay were all on scene.
"They were storming our camp I guess, they had us surrounded," said resident Devon Woodford.
"I don't think it's fair the way that they're doing this. I think they're acting like a bunch of bullies," said Teagyn McFarlene, with tears in her eyes.
Officials were acting on a Ministry of Transportation request to have tent city residents vacate.
Only one person was arrested, a woman who wasn't living at the camp but crossed the police tape surrounding it.
A lawyer representing the group said the province demanded they leave on two grounds: trespassing and proximity to Highway 17.
In a news release calling it a "surprise raid," the group dubbed Namegans Nation said the action "undermines due process by dodging the unresolved legal question of homeless peoples' Section 7 Charter rights in relation to Provincially-owned property."
They moved there last Friday, after a tent city at Regina Park was shut down and cordoned off to the public. Campers chose a swatch of provincially owned land on purpose, similar to an encampment that sprang up on provincial land at Victoria's courthouse three years ago.
"The reason we came here in the first place is we wanted to make this a provincial issue," said tent city supporter and Alliance Against Displacement spokesperson Ashley Mollison.
A steady stream of campers packed out their belongings, some into rented U-Haul vans that were provided. By 4 p.m. the last of the people living at the encampment had left and the property had fencing placed up around it, according to police.
Many of them said they weren't sure where they'd go next.
"We're a small representation of a much larger population that's currently living in shelters or sub-standard housings, or unaffordable housing," said Blaire Este.
Some campers briefly moved on to Rudd Park, where they spent the night last week after being forced from Regina Park.
"Word is maybe we're going to go back to Rudd Park where we got a really bad reception from neighbours and the police," said Este.
Parents living near Rudd Park quickly put the brakes on a youth soccer game scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday evening after learning campers were coming back.
But other camp organizers later told CTV News they planned to head to Goldstream Provincial Park to camp there for two weeks.
Under a municipal bylaw, overnight camping is permitted in 102 parks in Saanich between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m., and tents must be dismantled and campers must move on each morning.
"While we know this is not a long-term solution, it is safer than their current location," B.C.'s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statement.
The province says its ultimate goal is to get people into shelters and long-term housing, and is expediting the opening of winter shelters as soon as possible. That includes 25 beds that are set to open Oct. 1 at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre.
"This situation continues to show that people do not have enough affordable and supportive housing options in the region," the ministry said. "Solving this challenge in the region will require local governments to partner with the provincial government by identifying sites for supportive housing."
Police are also directing homeless people to Saanich City Hall, which provides a hygiene station including washrooms and showers between the hours of 7 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.
We’re letting people know, who are experiencing homelessness, there are 100+ parks in #saanich where seeking temporary shelter is permitted https://t.co/ti8u70jMyt. Temporary overnight sheltering can occur from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. Temp sheltering is not avail in these parks tho. pic.twitter.com/YDbkopjwLF— Saanich Police (@SaanichPolice) September 18, 2018