A relief organization, which usually helps alleviate disasters overseas, has sprung into action for the first time in Canada - with help going to the camp for homeless people at Wood-wynn Farms in Central Saanich.
Disaster Aid Canada, headquartered in Victoria and supported by Rotary Clubs across the country, has donated 10 three-bedroom tents to the Creating Homefulness Society, a group trying to establish a therapeutic community for homeless people.
"It is the first time we have deployed in Canada," said Don Ohlgren, Disaster Aid executive director. "This is a disaster, so let's give a hand," he said.
Several donors came forward to suggest that support should go to Wood-wynn, Ohlgren said.
The camp at Woodwynn contravenes municipal bylaws, but, this summer the council suggested the society could apply for a temporary conditional use permit, allowing structures without foundations to be used for three years.
The tents, which are specially made for Disaster Aid, have a 15-centimetre gap between the inner and outer wall to act as insulation, and are worth about $5,000 in total, Ohlgren said. "They aren't going to work really well at 20 degrees below [freezing], but they are better than being outside."
If people want privacy, three occupants can each have their own bedroom, but the six-metre by six-metre tents will sleep 10, Ohlgren said.
Disaster Aid has recently sent tents and survival kits to Thailand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Ghana and Afghanistan and school tents to Libya and Haiti.
"We are an emergency organization that provides housing and assistance around the world," Ohlgren said.
Two tents have been erected at the West Saanich Road farm and the rest will go up as soon as platforms are built, said Richard Leblanc, the society's executive director.
"I was phenomenally surprised. These are not regular tents by any means," Leblanc said.
"This is really timely given the announcement of 30 deaths," he said.
Last week, Victoria social service agencies said 30 homeless or under-housed people have died this summer - three times more than usual.
Seven formerly homeless people are camping at the farm and that number sometimes rises to about 14, said Leblanc, who is planning to spread the word that there is now comfortable accommodation available. Porta-potties are on site and meals are served at the nearby farm cottage.
The camp started after the Agricultural Land Commission turned down an application to remove a parcel of farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve to build accommodation for up to 24 staff and 96 clients.
The application was not supported by Central Saanich council.
Leblanc said talks are continuing with municipal staff and the application for a temporary use permit has not yet been submitted.
Central Saanich Coun. Adam Olsen said the situation has not changed. "We are awaiting an application from Creating Homeful-ness," he said.
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