Some 200 residents, many visibly angry and emotional, packed a West Shore pub Sunday to urge provincial officials including their local MLA, Premier John Horgan, to move the homeless camp in Goldstream Provincial Park to a different location.
The event was advertised as a forum for residents to voice their concerns, and was not without its tensions.
“Get this group out of here, so we can have our park back,” said one resident Mark, who declined to provide his last name.
An estimated 40 homeless campers, who arrived from Saanich Tuesday, are living in the campground at Goldstream Park after police had ordered them out of Regina Park, as well as a camp near the corner of Ravine Way and Carey Road.
Their presence has sparked a negative reaction from residents and local officials including Langford Mayor Stew Young, who attended Sunday’s gathering at Ma Miller’s Pub.
Young asked attendees to avoid generalizations about the homeless residents. “Not everybody in the camp is doing drugs,” he said. “Not everybody is criminal.”
He also tempered expectations, noting among other points that the provincial government currently lacks sufficient housing, but made clear that he feels the responsibility to house people lies with the provincial government, not with the municipality.
“It is up to the provincial government to help the residents with supportive services around the clock,” he said.
Young also expressed frustration with the province’s response to the issue, saying he has asked for appointments in the coming days with all ministers involved.
Heidi Hartman, a regional director with BC Housing, told the crowd that additional support services were on their way. However, BC Housing cannot force people to accept housing, unless an extreme cold weather event is unfolding, she added.
Hartman, nor two representatives from Horgan’s office, could answer some of the key questions on the minds of concerned residents, namely how long the camp would remain at Goldstream Park.
As speaker after speaker took the floor, their comments made it clear the community wants the camp as gone as quickly as possible, citing concerns about increased crime.
Gordon, who did not give his last name, said he (like other residents) is not against the homeless, but the behaviour that often follows them. He added that he and his neighbours have started late night patrols to ensure the safety of the nearby neighbourhood.
Others raised concern about the impact that the residents will have on the provincial park.
“As far as I am concerned, the integrity of this park has been compromised,” Mark said.
One speaker referred to the residents as “slime,” a comment that earned her some rebuke, but also quiet toleration. One man sitting away from the stage referred to the camp residents as “professional protesters.”
But, residents also heard from Morgan van Humbeck, a camp resident, who told them the campers of Namegans Nation are working hard to maintain the integrity of the park.
Van Humbeck also agreed that more must be done to deal with homelessness at the root level.
As for specific recommendations, residents appeared to be in agreement that the camp should move to a nearby park.
Camp leader Chrissy Brett said everyone is free to voice their opinion, adding that camp residents would welcome the opportunity to engage with residents in a non-alcoholic environment.
She also appeared open to the idea of moving, if the province would provide the necessary supportive services, especially for those with mobility challenges.