LANGFORD, B.C. – The camping area of a provincial park near Victoria was closed to the public Thursday as a group of homeless people were allowed to stay indefinitely while the British Columbia government tries to find them alternate housing options.
Environment Ministry spokesman David Karn said the government has not imposed a deadline on the group of about 30 people to leave Goldstream Provincial Park even though a provincial eviction notice was set to be imposed Thursday morning.
Earlier reports by park officials of a 24-hour extension on the eviction notice followed by a possible two week time limit no longer apply to the homeless people who have pitched tents in the park, he said.
“The province has no deadline in place for their stay at present while outreach workers work with them on supports, including shelter and housing,” Karn said.
Housing Minister Selina Robinson said in a statement the campground was closed to ensure public safety, adding the park isn’t an appropriate place to establish a tent city.
“Our goal is to get people into shelters and longer-term housing,” she said.
Goldstream Park is in Premier John Horgan’s riding of Langford-Juan de Fuca, located 16 kilometres northwest of Victoria. There are 173 campsites at the 477-hectare park and two group sites.
The park is known for its huge 600-year-old Douglas fir trees and western red cedars. The park is also the site of an annual chum salmon spawning run, which draws thousands of visitors to the riverside trails and observation platforms.
The park’s day use area remains open.
The approach of Thursday’s morning eviction drew a tense crowd of about 50 local residents and campers to the locked gates of the park’s camping area. Uniformed RCMP officers were also present.
Homeless advocate Ashley Mollison said the extension gives the campers a safe place to stay while they try to find suitable housing.
“This whole week we’ve seen that we’ve been chased by three levels of government and we’ve had five police departments that are chasing homeless people from park to street to now campground,” she said. “This kind of action towards homeless people really escalates anti-homeless hate.”
The same group of campers was ousted from provincially owned land in nearby Saanich earlier this week, just days after a court order forced them out of another park that some had occupied since the spring.
About a half dozen local residents got into verbal exchanges with the campers that were sometimes heated.
Jamie Thomson said he understands the need for housing but was concerned a large group of people were about to make the park their home for an indefinite time because of the impact they could have on “a completely and utterly pristine environment.”
“Let’s find somewhere they can go but let’s find somewhere they can go that can be fixed afterwards,” he said.
Lynne Hiback wiped away tears after explaining she felt she was being treated unfairly because she is homeless.
I want shelter. I want protection,” she said. “I want people for us, not against us.”