WATCH: An entire provincial campground on Vancouver Island has been shut down after a group of homeless campers moved in. Thursday was a tumultuous day outside the park where tempers between homeless advocates and area residents flared. April Lawrence reports.
About 30 evicted homeless campers that moved from Saanich to a campground at Goldstream Provincial Park have been told they can stay.
Environment Ministry spokesman David Karn confirmed there is no deadline for homeless campers to leave the Goldstream Provincial Park campground.
West Shore RCMP and park officials had moved in Wednesday night and told all campers the campground would be closed indefinitely at 11 a.m..
The site is usually opened year-round.
But as that deadline approached and campers packed their belongings Thursday, a provincial government statement said campers would get a 24-hour extension to stay while officials collected further information. However, by Thursday afternoon, Karn said the homeless campers were free to stay but the campground remains closed to other overnight guests. The ministry said there was miscommunication earlier in the day.
“The province has no deadline in place for their stay at present while outreach workers work with them on supports, including shelter and housing,” Karn said.
The public can still use the park during the day and people with reservations at the campground will get a refund.
The B.C. government said a 24-hour extension has been granted to existing campers at Goldstream Provincial Park. During that time, the government will collect further information and examine the situation. #yyj
— CHEK News (@CHEK_News) September 20, 2018
Housing Minister Selina Robinson said in a statement the campground was closed to ensure public safety, adding the park isn’t an appropriate place to establish a tent city.
“Our goal is to get people into shelters and longer-term housing,” she said.
Homeless advocate Ashley Mollison said the extension gives the campers a safe place to stay while they try to find suitable housing.
“This whole week we’ve seen that we’ve been chased by three levels of government and we’ve had five police departments that are chasing homeless people from park to street to now campground,” she said.
“This kind of action towards homeless people really escalates anti-homeless hate.”
There was also a confrontation at the park gates between Langford residents and homeless supporters, with roughly 20 residents arriving at Goldstream.
— April Lawrence (@AprilCHEK) September 20, 2018
The face-to-face encounter between the two sides forced West Shore RCMP officers to step in.
Jamie Thomson said he understands the need for housing but was concerned a large group of people were about to make the park their home for an indefinite time because of the impact they could have on “a completely and utterly pristine environment.”
“Let’s find somewhere they can go but let’s find somewhere they can go that can be fixed afterwards,” he said.
Lynne Hiback wiped away tears after explaining she felt she was being treated unfairly because she is homeless.
“I want shelter. I want protection,” she said. ”I want people for us, not against us.”
After nearly five months occupying a tent city at Regina Park in Saanich, homeless campers have been on the move from the Saanich park, to provincially-owned land and now the provincial park in just over a week.
The campers moved to Goldstream Park after initially planning to occupy Rudd Park in Saanich Tuesday night, but were not allowed to start setting up until 7 p.m. because of a municipal bylaw.
Saanich police were also prohibiting the unloading of larger items, like couches, from the groups’ U-Haul trailers that were provided by advocates.
The campers had been removed Tuesday morning from Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure land near Highway 17 by Saanich police, who were given the authorization to do so by the ministry.
They had been on that land since last Friday after being evicted from Regina Park earlier in the week.
Goldstream Park is in Premier John Horgan’s riding of Langford-Juan de Fuca, located 16 kilometres northwest of Victoria. There are 173 campsites at the 477-hectare park and two group sites.
The park is known for its huge 600-year-old Douglas fir trees and western red cedars. The park is also the site of an annual chum salmon spawning run, which draws thousands of visitors to the riverside trails and observation platforms.