Chased from Oak Bay, the nomadic tent city led by Chrissy Brett and has returned to Saanich.
The group is in its ninth week and currently totals about eight people bunked in Cadboro-Gyro Park.
After three weeks in Oak Bay Brett said the relationship with Oak Bay Police had run its course. The group moved through Oak Bay’s downtown to Willows Beach park and then to Uplands Park, where it vacated on Halloween. It was a somewhat controversial departure for what’s meant to be a peaceful protest.
Brett said reports of vandalism at their last site, Uplands Park, were overblown after Oak Bay complained it might have to pay $1,500 for a “tribute bench” that was “spray painted.” What was actually painted was the feet of the weathered and aging bench, said Brett, which one of the campers took upon himself to sand and restore, albeit without permission from Oak Bay Parks.
It’s yet another instance of the community overlooking the group for what it is, a moving prayer vigil that calls for basic human rights.
“Needles and defecation seems to be all the media and community want to focus on,” Brett said. “Are a couple needles our biggest problem? Why isn’t the general public concerned about how 1,387 homeless people across Greater Victoria are without basic human rights. If we were refugees we’d have basic [amenities] that homeless people don’t have.”
(The number 1,387 comes from the Greater Victoria Point In Time homeless count of February, 2016.)
So far, the response to the tent city from visitors to Cadboro-Gyro Park, at least those who interact with Brett, is positive, she said. A representative from Cadboro Bay Residents Association visited to welcome them.
To talk with Brett is to enter into a political discussion (you’ll need time to talk to her if you’re going to).
Saanich Police’s Community Engagement division has been fair to the group, helping to arrange a portable outhouse when the group tented at Hampton Park last month, and act as a de-facto liaison for the community at large.
“We anticipate no problems,” said Saanich Sgt. Andy Stuart of Saanich Police’s Community Engagement. “In my experience [Brett] doesn’t want negative press. We had no issues when they were at Gorge and Hampton, I’m not concerned with them at Cadboro Bay.”
What Brett hopes to secure through a conversation with the province is a section of fenced in provincial land with electricity, running water, toilets and showers.
“We all qualify for $375 towards basic rent assistance if we have an address,” Brett said. “Why not put each person’s $375 towards [the amenities] of a safe location.
“We’re not a sober group but we provide support for people who are overlooked and wouldn’t get otherwise.”
The group expect to move out by Nov. 6 but haven’t said where it will head.
There are a few regular visitors who provide various supports to the tent city group. They range from mental health outreach programs to Saanich Police.
“We try to help them,” Stuart said. “[At Gorge] we left the washrooms open 24-hours, checked them daily and no issues, no needles, no mess, in case that’s people are worried about that.”
Stuart, who regularly managers campers in Saanich parks, particularly Cuthbert Holmes, said he’s received emails from the public worried about the tent city group regarding needles and drug paraphernalia.
“The reality is Saanich Parks staff find capped needles in parks all over, so to say that this [group] is the only people doing that is inaccurate. We’re going to hold them to the seven days, but not holding them to a line in the sand.”