Over Christmas, a group of Salt Spring homeless residents decided to group together to try and stay warm during the unseasonably cold weather.
The group, which they have named the Salt Spring Warming Collective, initially set up in Peace Park, but quickly determined that wasn’t a great location.
“It being Christmas week, it’s a pretty tough week and it was an unusually cold week minus 10, minus 12 average. We kept that fireplace going 24/7 for an entire week until New Year’s Day,” said Kajin Goh, member of the Salt Spring Warming Collective.
He said that when temperatures rose during the day, the ground under the campers turned muddy, so they knew they had to find a better spot.
“And that’s the point in which we started speaking to the CRD (Capital Regional District) manager of Parks and Recreation here. We sent messages out to the elected official, the CRD director Gary Holman, and then the parks and recreation management and we spoke on the phone and then we had no reply,” Goh said.
“We prospected throughout this area to find a spot which was safe and accessible and as much as possible a little further from neighbours, we didn’t want to impact the neighbourhood in a negative way. And we alerted CRD about the spot and we didn’t hear anything.”
At that point, the group set up their second location in Mouat Park.
“And then the next thing we knew we had a notice of removal,” Goh said. “We were just starting to gather resources and organize.”
Goh said the CRD told the group they could set up in another location which was in a dog park, and they could only set up between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
“We thought that was an inconvenience to the dog park, people walk through, kids walk through,” Goh said. “So we set up in the woods just adjacent, maybe just 100 meters away, where we’re protected and where the dogs wouldn’t wander out in the same way and where we felt safer where we felt we weren’t going to impact the neighbours as much.”
Goh also noted that at 11 p.m. it is dark out, which he says it is difficult to set up a tent after dark.
After they had been at that location for a short time, the CRD issued a notice of removal for this location so they moved to Centennial Park.
Goh said in this location they were faced with wind from the ocean which made it more cold. The CRD told them they had to remove the tarps between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., which the group did.
Due to these conditions, and not wanting to deal with bylaw officers again, the group decided to move.
The group did not disclose the new location at the time of interview because they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves, but shortly after the group spoke with CHEK News the CRD required them to move from this spot.
CHEK News reached out to the CRD for an interview, but the CRD declined the request.
The group says they would like a more permanent place to stay, but all of the shelter spaces on Salt Spring Island are full.
The B.C. government recently announced it will be building 28 shelter spaces at 161 Drake Rd. but those spaces are to replace the temporary spaces currently available at Seabreeze Inne.
In January, Islands Trust estimated that there is a deficit of 300 housing units on Salt Spring Island. The population used to estimate the housing needs were based on the 2016 census data.
The 2021 census data shows the population of Salt Spring Island grew by 10.2 per cent.
Nicole Whitefield, a resident of the warming collective, says the warming collective is very important to her.
“[It means] pretty much everything to me right now. I came back home and I needed to be with people that were open and accepting,” Whitefield said, saying she is coping with the loss of her child. “I’ve just been here feeling and being with my community…But it’s been it’s been absolutely life changing. I need it for my heart.”
Julia Lypian, another resident of the collective, says the group provides a sense of safety.
“I remember sleeping outside and I remember being attacked by certain individuals. I would have rocks thrown at me by some teenagers,” Lypian said. “So it’s our sense of community together. That’s really important for safety I think, us being gathered together like that.”
Lypian says the group wants to find somewhere that they can stay for some time, and would like to work with the CRD to ensure they don’t get moved again.
“Nobody wants to move their things, heavy, heavy, wet, soggy sleeping bags,” Lypian said. “I hate moving luggage over and over and over again. It would be nice to put our belongings down, your backpack, and be safe. It would be nice to be able to leave my stuff for a minute and go walk around town.”
Toto Andre, a resident of the warming collective, says he believes people are drawn to the group to have some sense of stability.
“Everyone involved in the warming space collective had and are experiencing displacement in a lot of ways,” Andre said. “So that seeking of an anchor is really important. It’s something that we’re all feeling and drawn to that has helped so much.”