Following the closure of the temporary homeless isolation space at SEAPARC, Sooke’s homeless population has set up camp in Ed MacGregor Park. (Dawn Gibson - Sooke News Mirror)

Sooke’s homeless reflect on housing situation

Ed MacGregor Park a new temporary home for Sooke’s homeless population

The driving force of life takes all of us through a series of twists and turns, and we never know where exactly it might lead.

A year ago, Sooke resident Jane never thought “in a million years,” she would find herself homeless. But sometimes less than ideal circumstances can be presented to us, and our whole world can be thrown upside down.

Today, Jane, who asked to use a pseudonym as her family does not know she is homeless, has a tent set up at Ed Macgregor park, along with 13 others, temporarily calling the space home.

Jane has had stability throughout her life, but in the last year she became homeless and spent the winter living outdoors in various places around Sooke with her dog.

“She kept me warm,” Jane said, gazing lovingly at her four-legged companion.

“Some nights, sleeping outside is hard. But I am thankful for where I live, and that I can at least have access to things like running water. Some people in the world don’t.”

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, a member of the Sooke Shelter Society came and found Jane, helped her gather her things, and brought her to SEAPARC Leisure Complex, which was used as a temporary homeless isolated space.

“Melony came yelling my name, coming down like it was Christmas. She was crying, and got me out of my tent saying, ‘this is the last night you’ll have to sleep out here in a tent,’” Jane recalled.

“They carried my stuff to the truck, drove me down there, and it was an overwhelming experience with all these kind people asking how we were and what we needed.”

RELATED: Sooke temporary homeless shelter packs up early

The temporary shelter was operated by the Sooke Region Communities Health Network, with B.C. Housing, regional health authorities and municipal governments, who designed the project as part of a community response plan for the pandemic.

The temporary setup at SEAPARC was meant to be a transitional space to help Sooke’s homeless population self-isolate, while giving them access to resources, and helping them move forward and find housing options.

Jane said the support workers and volunteers at the space were “absolutely incredible,” and were providing occupants with medical support, gave her a new mattress, camping supplies, a tent, and offered her food to eat. She added the camp ran very smoothly and everyone staying there became like a family.

However, there were a few incidents that took place at SEAPARC, Jane said, which came from the public, not the occupants using the shelter.

“We had some stuff chucked at us, or people were trying to peek in, or just being downright rude … but it didn’t bother me,” said Jane.

“You get to see two different sides of humanity, and you can either pay attention to the person throwing junk at you, or you can pay attention to the woman who brought me fresh greens from her garden. It’s about perspective.”

On June 22, the isolation space was shut down and the occupants had to vacate, due to SEAPARC starting up youth camps on June 29. Jane isn’t sure what lies ahead for her and the group staying at Ed Macgregor Park, but is hoping everyone will find housing options soon.

Being in that safe, supportive environment at SEAPARC over the last couple of months offered Jane a fresh look at what is possible for her, and she hopes to keep the momentum going.

“I still feel scared, embarrassed, ashamed, all those things, but I can talk myself out of it easier now. There’s more positive I see than negative,” said Jane. “And I’m feeling motivated and grateful for everyone that I’ve met and the people who have helped me. I have established relationships with people who will probably be in my life forever.”

Sooke RCMP have been interacting with occupants of the camp at Ed Macgregor, and say they are working with the district and B.C. housing to help find a solution, but so far there have been no issues stemming from the camp.

“As far as we have seen, they are respecting the park, we’ve had positive interactions, and we don’t have any major concerns,” Cpl. Joe Holmes said.

Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said the situation is not ideal, but the occupants of the shelter have been displaced and Ed Macgregor Park is one of the only accessible parks in Sooke, which has running water.

As there aren’t many options for affordable housing units the area, the Sooke Region Communities Health Network, in collaboration with B.C. Housing, regional health authorities and municipal governments, have been looking to find possible temporary housing sites and funding to support the homeless population moving forward.

“Part of embracing the new normal during the pandemic is thinking outside the box, forging new relationships with community partners and finding solutions that work for everyone,” said Tait.

“In Sooke, we have big hearts and we take care of our own. When we see unhoused members in a park we step in to find a better way.”

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