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Sooke Homeless Coalition seeks safety for people sleeping in cars

Emergency billeting idea would link homeless with property owners
The Sooke Homeless Coalition wants to work with the District of Sooke to offer stable, safe places for homeless people to park recreatioal vehicles. (File - Sooke News Mirror)

Richard Sawatsky, a provincial government employee, has called his RV home for months, due to the high cost of rental housing on the South Island.

“Houses are just too expensive,” said Sawatsky, a member of the Sooke Homeless Coalition.

He’s not alone.

The latest figures from the 2020 Greater Victoria Point-In-Time Homeless Count and Housing Needs Report found 37 people homeless in Sooke, and 16 per cent of them sleep in their vehicles. Those numbers are expected to be much higher now, with more than 25 people known to sleep in cars among the hidden homeless.

“Right now, there is nowhere for people to go,” Sawatsky said.

To try to help, the coalition wants to work with the District of Sooke to offer stable, safe places to park.

One option is a two-year emergency billeting pilot program where property owners would offer their driveway or space for RV parking, with electricity hook up, water and access to Wi-Fi. A contract would exist for the land arrangement, with the RV owner paying $300 to the landlord.

READ: Fundraiser launched to construct seniors facility in Sooke

The billeting program would see RV owners parked on private land for up to 90 days.

But there are challenges.

The district would need to issue temporary use permits. Still, there are also water, sewer, Building Code, zoning and official community plan issues, Matthew Pawlow, Sooke’s director of planning, told council at a recent committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Senior levels of government may also need to get involved. The province is creating a new housing initiative to fast-track development, which could include constructing tiny homes and using recreational vehicles as permanent housing.

“If we relax the zoning, we can’t do it for 20 or 30 people. We have to relax the zoning across the board and not show favouritism,” Coun. Al Beddows said.

Other councillors agreed.

Coun. Dana Lajeunesse said he didn’t think the program could span the district and all neighbourhoods and suggested a minimum property size.

The biggest challenge is for different levels of bureaucracy to work together so change could happen “in a meaningful way,” said acting mayor Ebony Logins.

The Sooke Homeless Coalition will discuss the billeting pilot program next month, expecting to return to council later this year.

“The devil’s in the details, and there are a lot of details that need to be worked out,” Beddows said.

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Kevin Laird

About the Author: Kevin Laird

It's my passion to contribute to the well-being of the community by connecting people through the power of reliable news and storytelling.
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