This photo taken Thursday last week shows local fire and police authorities meeting with Chrissy Brett, one of the leaders of the encampment at Regina Park. Police arrested Brett Friday for obstructing a peace officer and assaulting a peace officer with an air horn. Police have released her on the condition that she does not own an air horn. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Neighbour nears the breaking point over Regina Park camp

Camp residents say authorities are using fire order to harrass them

A resident who lives near the homeless encampment at Regina Park says Saanich has “dropped the ball” in demanding its dissolution. Saanich simultaneously stands accused of provoking and harassing camp residents through fire-safety regulations.

“I would like to see the district get the camp out of here,” said Wesley, who did not want to give his last name because he fears retaliation from camp residents. “The district has dropped the ball, and should have handled the situation weeks before the camp grew to the size that it is now.”

The longer the camp continues, the more people it will draw, making it more difficult to dissolve it, he said.

People who deserve housing should get housing, he said. “People who are abusing the system should not be allowed to live in the middle of the neighbourhood in a camp.”

He made these comments after neighbours found a needle propped under one of his vehicle tires. He suspects that the needle was a form of retaliation after he had called police on three occasions after receiving threats from camp residents over the last four weeks.

Wesley’s discovery and demand for dissolution came less than 48 hours after Saanich Police had arrested Chrissy Brett — the self-described “encampment founder” of the tent city — for obstructing a peace officer and assaulting a peace officer with an airhorn.

Brett spent several hours in police custody Friday, before being released, said Ashley Mollison of the Alliance Against Displacement, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) that has been working with the camp residents.

According to a joint press release from the camp and the NGO, police arrested Brett “for preventing a fire marshal from throwing away someone’s home without their consent.”

Brett said in an interview that she was trying to prevent authorities from throwing away the personal possessions of a resident. During the confrontation, she used an air horn to alert camp residents of the incident. Officials then returned to arrest her.

Brett, who calls the charges “ridiculous” and a waste of resources, is due to appear in court Aug. 20.

According to Mollison, officials with the Saanich Fire Department were becoming increasingly aggressive in enforcing a fire order issued on June 29 prior to Friday’s incident.

“It was escalating to the point that they were looking for non-compliance,” said Mollison. This point also appears in the camp’s release.

“Camp Namegans and the Alliance Against Displacement are calling on the Saanich Fire Department to end its campaign of provocation and harassment,” it reads.

Specifically, the release accuses Saanich of using fire safety regulations in “attempting to bypass the path of a court-ordered injunction by deploying fire marshals to do their dirty work.”

Mollison, who has been to five tent cities, said the Regina Park is the safest, which she has seen, adding that the camp is making progress towards fulfilling the requirements of Saanich authorities concerning fire safety. The camp has also asked for — and so far — not received fire extinguishers among other fire safety tools.

Mollison said fire is just one of the risks that confronts homeless individuals, some of whom are unable to fire proof their living quarters during day hours as authorities have demanded, because they might be accessing food, water and services elsewhere in the region. Others, she added, might be working, making it difficult to fulfill demands.

Mollison said that relations between both sides have improved since Friday’s incident, which she predicts will not be a precursor for future confrontations. “I think it was a one-off incident,” she said.

This said, Mollison said she hopes that authorities will refrain from repeating their previous tactics.

“We really hope that this is fire order is not being used as a justification to close the camp, because homeless people face far greater health and safety when they spread around the city,” she said.

Friday’s incident happened against the backdrop of new information that shows Saanich could end up spending close to $1 million for extra policing and other services because of the encampment at Regina Park.

Wesley said this figure is yet another reason to disband the camp as quickly as possible.

That figure (which represents the “highest-cost scenario” according to the municipality) should concern all taxpayers in Saanich — not just residents around Regina Park, he said.

He said that figure could go up, because it does not include any future costs to clean up the site. Saanich staff have also raised the possibility that the municipality might have to pass new budget to avoid going into deficit, an eventuality that could involve property tax increases.

Mollison said critics who point to the cost of the camp are trying to stigmatize homeless individuals. “It’s about our choice to police and manage homelessness and not solve it,” she said. The money could go towards solving the problem, she said. She acknowledged that the neighbourhood around the park has witnessed incidents, but added that camp residents have been trying to deal with them internally.

Efforts to find a solution are currently underway, but municipal officials have warned against harbouring expectations of a quick resolution. Mayor Richard Atwell has unsuccessfully proposed using the former Emily Carr library branch as a housing site with the issue due back before council Monday and Saanich has received an unspecified offer of assistance for supportive modular housing from B.C. Housing.

Wesley said these efforts have disappointed him so far. “I think the efforts so far have been last-ditch, [reactionary] efforts,” he said.

While the Regina Park residents should get housing as quickly as possible, it is not Saanich’s mandate to provide it, he said. This said, Saanich should provide services towards dealing with the larger causes of homelessness such as addiction, he added.

Saanich Fire did not return a call seeking comment by deadline.


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wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

 

This submitted photos show a needle stuck inside a vehicle tire. The owner of the vehicle, who wished only his first name Wesley released, says he strongly suspects a Regina Park resident stuck the needle in his vehicle as retaliation for having spoken to police. He discovered the needle Saturday. Submitted.

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