In Saanich, homeless campers ‘slowly’ pack up

Homeless campers on a private rural property in Saanich were expected to leave overnight Friday.

About 15 campers were “slowly, slowly” packing up their belongings from a 1.4-acre property at 5090 West Saanich Rd., said landlord Sam Seera, who owns the property with Gurpal and Pavnit Aujla.

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The campers were trying to meet a self-imposed deadline agreed to last week by camp organizer Chrissy Brett and Seera.

The campers, who were previously at Saanich’s Regina Park and Goldstream Provincial Park, descended on the private site on Oct. 2 at the invitation of Saanich mayoral candidate David Shebib, whose son Andrew McLean rents a house on the property. However, Shebib never asked McLean nor Seera if he could host the campers.

The next day, Seera served a one-month eviction notice to the home’s tenants as a way to force the campers out.

On Oct. 4, he organized a peaceful demonstration. That ended in Brett and Seera agreeing that campers would voluntarily leave on Oct. 12.

Seera said he turned up on the property on Friday morning and didn’t see any sign of movement, but by the afternoon, he said he was confident the deal between the campers and landlord would be honoured.

“I think there’s a great chance they’ll leave in the middle of the night,” said Seera.

The secrecy was intentional: Once police know the campers’ next intended location, it can be shut down before they can set up camp, Brett said.

Seera said he paid $600 to provide the campers with a portable toilet with a sink, bought $400 worth of food, and gave Brett $250 on Thursday to pay for two U-Haul trucks to move out the camping gear.

On Friday afternoon, one U-Haul was being filled and the site was slowly being disassembled. A garbage truck was also on site ready to haul debris from the camp.

One camper helping to pack up was not convinced the move could be completed before early morning.

“As long as they keep moving,” said Seera.

What will happen to Seera’s tenants is unclear. Seera suggested McLean is moving to Salt Spring and that all of the tenants have to go.

However, McLean indicated on Friday he doesn’t know what he is going to do next.

Seera said McLean and his fellow tenants were caught in the middle of a plan devised by Shebib alone as an election stunt.

Shebib, a retired junk seller, ran in all 13 regional mayoral races in 2014 and two in 2011. He left for Bella Coola for a few days shortly after the campers arrived and was gone again on Friday, said Seera.

Seera said he’s having to juggle tenants upset they have been evicted and neighbours upset about the encampment.

Brett said campers aren’t interested in temporary shelter beds, being offered by the province, that would divide the camp’s two couples and leave campers on the street between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. when shelters are closed.

She said a handful of more secure housing spaces were offered by the province in recent weeks as the two sides negotiated, but those spaces have now been taken off the table by the province.

This week, municipal land that Saanich offered to the province for up to 60 modular homes was rejected due to the configuration of the property and the cost to upgrade it.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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