WATCH: As a tent city on the side of Highway 1 in Saanich grows, neighbours say they’re frustrated the municipality isn’t shutting it down. April Lawrence reports.
The buzz of weed eaters drowned out the sounds of traffic Monday at the tent city next to Highway 1 in Saanich. Campers and volunteers from Open Arms Ministry were holding a work party to clean up Regina Park.
“We’re trying to make it safe to stay here when it gets drier later in the summer it’s going to be a fire hazard,” said camper Paul Macsween.
There are roughly 50 people now living in tents there with no plans to leave. Most say they have nowhere else to go.
“I was staying at shelters, I was couch surfing, some nights I’d just walk all night,” said Macsween.
“I’ve been homeless for a year and I’ve been trying for over that to look for a place. I was renovicted a year ago,” said camper Blair Este.
But as the camp has grown over the past month so have the fears of neighbours that surround it.
“We’re all feeling very frustrated,” said nearby resident Al Murphy. “We’re all struggling with it being here and being illegal. It’s in a park it shouldn’t be here.”
Murphy wonders why the municipality hasn’t done anything yet.
“They should have stepped in right after the bat, as soon as they saw it happening,” he said.
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said Saanich Police visit the site every day, while municipal staff works with the campers to find a solution rather than forcing them out.
“Looking down legal avenues is something we’re loathe to do. It’s extremely thorny and costly, and once you go down that route it means you’re in that situation for a long time until courts make a decision and I think we’d like to avoid that,” he said.
The goal of the camp is to raise awareness about the need for more supportive housing especially in Saanich, the region’s largest municipality.
“What’s promising is there is a lot of money coming from the federal and provincial governments to help solve this problem. It’s a matter of finding the land, and some of those lands may be in Saanich and may not be in Saanich,” said Atwell.
The province said there are eight social housing projects in development in the region with nearly a thousand units to be built in the coming years. But they say if Saanich can find the land, they would provide funding for a modular housing development immediately.