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Saanich tent city ignites anger — and pleas for compassion

‘Neighbours are being held hostage,’ says man who lives near camp at Regina Park
Supporters of the Regina Park tent city residents stood at the back of Saanich council chambers durinig a special public meeting on Thursday, June 21, 2018.

Saanich residents blamed the Regina Park tent city for car break-ins, public urination and discarded drug paraphernalia at a public meeting Thursday night, while campers implored residents to have some compassion and get to know them.

The special council meeting, at times heated, was held against a backdrop of what Mayor Richard Atwell called a homelessness crisis taking place all over the region.

Rernart Weissl, who lives on Regina Avenue, said he’s frustrated the municipality has not been enforcing the bylaw that prevents overnight camping in parks.

“Neighbours are being held hostage,” he said.

Harriet Road resident Adam Vase said he has seen people urinating in public. The tent city has one urinal but no running water.

“Community residents live in fear for their personal safety,” Vase said, citing an increase in thefts from vehicles and discarded needles.

Tent city resident Ryan Williams thanked the neighbours for their patience and tolerance and made a tearful plea for them to talk to the campers to foster a sense of community.

Williams, who works security at the encampment, said criminal activity is not tolerated.

“Your kids are safe,” he said. “If there’s somebody crawling over your fence, come talk to one of us. It will be stopped right away.”

Supporters of the tent-city residents stood at the back of the council chambers holding posters reading “We Need Homes, Not Hate" and "We Are All One.”

Ashley Mollison, an outreach worker and activist, asked Saanich to install shower facilities so that campers can wash up without having to go to Our Place in downtown Victoria. She said tent cities can be “transformative” because they allow homeless people to have some control over their lives.

There are about 75 people living in the park, which is adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway and the Galloping Goose trail overpass.

The District of Saanich issued a notice to vacate on June 8, on the grounds that the campers’ occupation of the park is unlawful and constitutes trespassing.

Saanich Fire has issued two fire inspection orders in an attempt to alleviate fire hazards in the dry summer months.

Nina Bhangu said some of the campers cut through blackberry bushes to set up right against the fence separating the park and her yard. As a result, she said, her family has no privacy and they don’t let their small children play in the backyard.

Bhangu said she has found discarded needles along the Galloping Goose and has made several noise complaints to Saanich police after hearing swearing and yelling in the middle of the night.

“If the eviction notice has been given, it’s obviously some sort of joke because more and more tents keep setting up every day,” she said.

After the public was finished speaking, Atwell proposed a motion that council ask B.C. Housing to direct some supportive housing solutions in Saanich.

Atwell said council needs to work together to find land that is suitable for modular housing, a solution urged by Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming during a meeting with the mayor this month.