Province keeping a close eye on tent cities in Saanich, Nanaimo
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Monday, July 9, 2018 5:23PM PDT
Last Updated Monday, July 9, 2018 6:57PM PDT
B.C. Premier John Horgan says the province is paying close attention to tent cities in Nanaimo and Saanich, but there's a reason it hasn't stepped in like it did with a similar encampment in Victoria in 2016.
"You'll recall that the crisis of the courthouse tent city was made easier because it was on provincial land," Horgan told a crowd at an event in Nanaimo on Monday. "The park in question in Saanich is on municipal land, and I believe the land here is also municipal."
Despite that, Horgan said B.C.'s housing ministry is working directly on the tent city issues in Nanaimo and Saanich with officials from both municipalities.
"The province stands ready to work with communities to address these issues, and have been so for the past 11-and-three-quarter months, and we'll continue to do that for the rest of our time in government," he said. "We have to redouble our efforts each and every day to make sure everyone's working together to lift people up, not hold them down."
There are about 200 people living in Nanaimo's tent city, dubbed DisconTent City by residents and organizers. The city is pursuing a court injunction to dismantle tents and remove campers from the waterfront site.
Horgan said changes will not occur overnight, but one solution could come in the form of modular housing.
"We've been working on modular housing units, some 2,000 modular housing units across the province," said Horgan. "There was an opportunity here in Nanaimo that got in a little bit too late for decision-making."
Meanwhile in Saanich, city officials say they're following a legal path to remove a tent city in Regina Park where dozens of campers currently reside.
"It was very difficult and protracted in Victoria and I think we've learned from that experience," said Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell. "Ultimately this isn't the right location for this and we have to decamp these individuals."
Last week one of the encampment's organizers, Chrissy Brett, was arrested for allegedly obstructing firefighters during an inspection.
Police also alleged that Brett blasted an air horn in a firefighter's ear and said they would consider possible assault charges.
A tent city at Victoria's courthouse was shut down in 2016 after the government found shelter spaces for more than 300 people living there.
The province was able to step in and help because the courthouse was under provincial, not municipal jurisdiction.
Horgan's comments came as he announced 159 new affordable rental homes for seniors in Nanaimo. Construction on the homes will begin this summer, with an expected completion deadline of September 2020.