Homeless campers are now occupying Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure land near Saanich’s Municipal Hall.
Campers moved in Saturday around 4 p.m. and originally set up in both Saanich’s parking lot and along the highway. They were then directed by police to move to the land along the highway where they are now all set up.
Saanich police said they immediately contacted the province and will continue dialogue with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and provide them with support if or when requested.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said in a statment to CHEK News that the new location in Saanich is not a workable or long-term solution for anyone, and that Highway land is not a safe location for camping. They will be asking the campers to leave the highway right away.
Camp leader Chrissy Brett says they will most likely leave by Tuesday and move to another location.
The ministry adds that “shelter was offered to all of the homeless campers, unfortunately, while some took up the offer, the majority turned down the offered shelter spaces.”
They go on to say that they “Continue to hope that these campers will reconsider and take advantage of shelter options, while we work on longer-term housing supports. BC Housing and other outreach workers will continue to offer campers help accessing a shelter or other supports.”
Brett said the new location was in a response to the failure of Saanich’s modular housing proposal.
Land behind the Saanich City Hall and police and fire departments was put forward for modular housing but was rejected on Thursday.
Brent said that the land was put forward not in good faith. She adds that the decision for the spot was also to be less controversial, on the advice of the property owner of the West Saanich land they occupied before the move.
The ministry says the land was unfortunately not suitable for development, nor feasible for modular housing due to the steep slope of the property, construction and placement of the modular units that would require significant engineering and construction.
They add in their statement that they are hopeful for that given their commitment to identifying land for modular housing, they will continue to work with staff to find suitable alternate land on which housing can be built to meet the needs of the community.
The group left the property on West Saanich one day after their agreement with the owner, Sam Seera. Before, they were in Goldstream Park in Langford and then in Saanich at land near Ravine Way and at Regina Park.
Campers hope the move pushes the province to keep looking at options for housing the homeless.
The District of Saanich Parks and Management Control Bylaw does not apply on the provincial land, that allows temporary overnight sheltering in 102 of Saanich’s parks from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m.
Saanich’s emergency command vehicle was also set up last night as the campers moved in to monitor the situation, but by Sunday morning had been put away.
Police say evidence has shown that over the course of the encampment, at various locations, the rate of criminal activity in the areas increased. Saanich police say they are committed to ensuring the safety of all those impacted by this camp and ask that any criminal or suspicious activity be reported.
A hygiene station, including washrooms, showers, and a storage facility located at Saanich Municipal Hall will remain open for use from 7 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.