David Shebib, the Saanich mayoral candidate, who invited 20 homeless people to stay on a rural property Tuesday, was a subject of conversation during Saanich’s third all-candidates’ forum, despite his absence.
“My understanding from the Saanich News today is that David Shebib was trying to solve that problem himself, by inviting 20 campers to come to his property,” said Rob Wickson, to gentle laughter from the audience, as the candidates addressed a question about homelessness. He added that the complexity of the issue goes beyond a 30-second soundbite and that any solution needs to involve the homeless themselves.
Shebib — who is running for Saanich mayor against Wickson, as well as incumbent Richard Atwell, and Coun. Fred Haynes — could not respond, because he has yet to attend any of the three all-candidates forums so far. He also skipped a forum exclusively for the mayoral candidates organized by the University of Victoria Tuesday afternoon.
But Shebib, who has a checkered political past, injected himself into the public discourse about homelessness Tuesday, when he invited the remaining 20 to 25 homeless campers evicted from Goldstream Provincial Park to stay at 5090 West Saanich Rd., a rural property in Saanich.
Most of the group has been together since the tent city at Regina Park and wanted to stay together. They moved in Tuesday afternoon and set up camp next to the house, with the stated intention to remain at the location until Oct. 20.
But this move has a hitch. While Shebib operated a business on that property, he is neither owner nor tenant, said Sam Seera, who co-owns the property with Gurpal Aujla.
While many attending Tuesday’s forum at Claremont Secondary school were likely unaware of Shebib’s ownership status, his move nonetheless gave the general subject of homelessness and the municipality’s response an added currency.
Several of the 18 candidates for councillor — all of them non-incumbent — openly criticized the timing of Saanich’s decision to accept help from the provincial government to build supportive housing in exchange for municipal-owned land.
Ned Taylor said he was disappointed that the municipality did not accept this exchange until two weeks ago.
“This issue has spiralled out of control,” he said, adding Saanich should have been more pro-active. Rebecca Mersereau agreed. “A more compassionate response is also a more cost-effective response,” she said.
“I hate to say this, but I’m on running on a platform, to accept millions of dollars in free supportive housing, when offered from the provincial government, and I will lobby for more,” said Teale Phelps Bondaroff, who accused the current council of dithering and failing the tent city residents.
Atwell, who had previously taken credit for securing the supportive housing, for his part attacked council for failing to support his initiative consider the former Emily Carr library as a potential housing site for occupants of the Regina Park tent city.
“It’s a viable site,” said Atwell. “Unfortunately, the council has chosen to spend $2 million on a very minor renovation because we have three staff members in the hallways,” he said. “That decision should be re-visited. It’s a poor decision.”
Coun. Fred Haynes acknowledged the complexity of the issue, adding that the homeless are active participants. Municipal, provincial and regional governments have committed $90 million dollars towards the issue, he added. He also broadly defended council’s record.
“You elected this council to take care, and we are taking care,” he said.