A group of homeless individuals are planning their next move Friday morning after spending the night in a soccer field following their departure from Regina Park Thursday evening.
According to estimates, anywhere between 15 and 20 individuals headed towards Rudd Park to camp there overnight after departing Regina Park.
This development marked the formal end of the homeless camp that lasted for at least four months after popping up in May. Justice Ward Branch of the B.C. Supreme Court ordered its closure a week ago, telling residents that they had until 7 p.m. on Sept. 11 to depart the site near Uptown.
That deadline came and went without incident, but camp residents subsequently accused authorities of heavy-handed tactics.
This growing tension served as the backdrop to developments late Thursday afternoon. According to a press release from campers, police surprised remaining campers with an order to leave camp by 5 p.m.
According to the release, police told the remaining residents that they be allowed to return in the morning to retrieve their belongings.
This gave about 30 homeless people the choice between taking their tents to camp in a park overnight and leaving their belongings unprotected in the elements, or leaving their tents to protect their belongings and sleeping unprotected, according to the release.
According to the release, “residents were under the impression that the City of Saanich and the police agreed to extend the displacement deadline to Friday at 5 p.m.” following negotiations.
Police officials have denied that they told residents they had until Friday, 5 p.m.
Camp Namegans — as residents called it — housed more than 100 people at its height, and Ashley Mollison of Alliance Against Displacement said Thursday she did not know where most of the campers went, as they had been isolated from each other during the move.
Camp leader Chrissy Brett said campers likely moved to other places like Pandora Ave. if they could not find shelters.
Brett said overall, Saanich Police was less compassionate than the Victoria Police, though she praised some Saanich officers for treating campers well.
Anna Cooper, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society who said she “watched people’s dignity being violated all day today,” referring to the actions of Saanich Police officers.
Cooper said officers had “the audacity to ask a woman who was crying what she was upset about when that police officer was there to forcibly evict her from the only home she had 15 minutes later. This is completely unworkable.”
“We’re just going to keep having a cycle of tent cities until we find a better answer than this,” said Cooper.
Several campers spoke about their experience, expressing both sadness at their eviction and frustration at the lack of affordable housing in the city. Justin Funk, a camp resident, said he busked to earn money and decried businesses for asking to leave as customers were still free to enter and shop.
“I’m very tired right now,” said another camper. “We all just want a place to live.”
Neighbour Kathy Marier, leaning on her fence and watching the camp residents move their belongings, said she was relieved. She said camp residents were using her garden hose and had stolen belongings from neighbour’s yards.
“We’ve been so frustrated and now they’ve actually did what they said what they were going to do and get our community back to normal.”
The campers will rally at 5 p.m. Friday at the Regina Park parking lot.
“We may go for a small walk, and end with a rally, possibly at the [Saanich] Municipal Hall,” said Brett.
With files from Hugo Wong.