Lawyer for Victoria homeless camp questions offer by Saanich Police

Lawyer for Victoria homeless camp questions offer by Saanich Police

John Heaney says breaking up camp puts people at risk because it seperates them from support

As residents of a homeless camp near Saanich’s Uptown shopping centre continue to pack their belongings Tuesday afternoon, Saanich police are encouraging campers to take shelter in one of their more than 100 parks that allow overnight camping.

“We’re letting people know, who are experiencing homelessness, there are [hundred-plus] parks in [Saanich] where seeking temporary shelter is permitted,” Saanich police said in a tweet.

RELATED: Woman arrested as Saanich Police dismantle tent city near Highway 17

But the lawyer representing the residents of Camp Namegans is questioning this approach and pointing out these spaces do not permit individuals to shelter during the day.

“When the people leave here, if they can’t be together, they will be far worse off, our society is far worse off,” said John Heaney Tuesday morning. “They are sleeping dispersed across the city. If they can’t be together, their service providers cannot find them.”

Thanks to the occasional presence of nurses and the availability of drugs, Regina Park helped saved homeless people from death by overdose, he said.

Heaney added those services will not be available if authorities insist that homeless individuals leave their overnight shelter every morning, he said.

Heaney made these comments less than two hours after the Saanich Police Department, with assistance from officers in Victoria and Oak Bay, cordoned off the homeless camp early Tuesday morning, which had sprung up at the corner of Ravine Way and Carey Road.

The camp — home to anywhere between 50 to 75 people according to varying estimates — appeared Friday following the closure of Regina Park Thursday evening. The remaining residents of Regina Park spent Thursday night to Friday morning at Rudd Park before setting up camp in the location now being closed down.

The location — a large, grassy highway island with a tuft of trees — belongs to the ministry of transportation and infrastructure.

The province had asked residents to leave the site on Saturday and Tuesday’s action is taking place under the authority of the Trespass Act and the Highway Act, according to Heaney, who questioned the legality of this move.

Mayor Richard Atwell said in an interview that the provincial government had asked Saanich police for assistance after Saanich had informed the ministry of the group’s arrival.

“Next step is simply to keep the peace,” said Atwell.

Camp advocate Ashley Mollison said Saanich’s continuing the tried and failed approach of hiding homelessness.

It is not clear yet how many, if any residents will take up the offer from Saanich Police. This said, rumours of residents moving to Rudd Park were circulating Tuesday morning among residents.

Blair Este, a camp resident, said he is not sure where he will go, in questioning why provincial authorities cannot solve this problem.

“We are a small representation of a much larger population that is currently living in sub-standard housing or unaffordable housing,” he said.

Paul Christopher, an outreach worker, who has been a steady presence at Regina Park and the new camp, said he expects individuals being disbanded from the camp will scatter across the region.

He also argued that the upcoming municipal election influenced Tuesday’s decision to disband the camp in identifying Atwell as an opponent.

“That suggestion couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Atwell. “The province issued the notice to vacate and the police are enforcing the law. To suggest otherwise is propaganda.”

Black Press has also reached out to ministry officials from comment, and will update story accordingly.

Tuesday’s break up of the camp has so far remained peaceful, although police arrested an older woman for unknown reasons during the early morning hours.

The Saanich News will update this story as new information becomes available.

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