Monday, April 15, 2024
April 15, 2024

Campers eye CRD’s Kanaka Road land

Salt Spring’s Local Community Commission (LCC) heard an 11th-hour proposal from a local non-profit society hoping to negotiate a winter space for people displaced after an encampment at Drake Road was dismantled. 

After BC Housing evicted campers from its property on Nov. 7, according to Chuan Society’s Kajin Goh, it was unclear where people who had sought their own accommodations there would end up. 

“There’s been a bit of a scattering and a scramble to figure out what to do next,” said Goh, appearing before the LCC Thursday, Dec. 7, on behalf of Chuan. He was flanked by Jenny McClean and Andre Toto Rodrigues, who he identified as fellow Chuan council members.  

Goh told the commission Chuan Society has been working on Salt Spring for six years, advocating generally for “well-being in our community,” although much of the work touches on the underhoused, mental health and addictions, he added. Chuan has been operating Gabriel’s Kitchen, a program for food-insecure community members to prepare and share a Saturday night dinner — operating on donated ingredients, a grant from Island Health and the contribution of a kitchen space on McPhillips Avenue from the Gulf Islands Family Together Society, where they cook and serve once per week. 

In the wake of the eviction at Drake Road, Goh said, he and Capital Regional District (CRD) director Gary Holman had discussed the need for a “society in good standing” to coordinate some agreement between the CRD and campers.

Goh and Chuan’s council brought a proposal to the LCC that centred around allowing the eight to 12 people from the Drake Road encampment to over-winter in RVs and tents at a CRD-owned property — specifically one on Kanaka Road, between the Gulf Islands Secondary School property and the Rainbow Recreation Centre’s pool parking lot. 

The need would be until late April, Goh said, and the Kanaka location was the group’s preference. Despite the best efforts of LCC members and Chuan, no private landowners had stepped forward to offer property for them. 

“We have some cognizance of that site,” said Goh, “because we did have a warming space there.”  

Goh noted the “Warming Space Collective” encampments, which occupied the Centennial Park gazebo and part of Mouat Park successively during winter 2021-22, were “not specifically a Chuan project,”  although they were “connected” to it. Some people who sought their own accommodations there — and elsewhere across Salt Spring Island, as those encampments were forced to dismantle — had been living this fall at Drake Road. 

“Winter is coming on pretty soon,” said Goh. “We’ve been pretty lucky that it hasn’t gotten really cold, but you know, two years ago we hit minus 10 degrees on Christmas Day.” 

Among possible issues Goh and Chuan already identified on Kanaka was whether an off-leash area could be defined; he said many have service dogs that are important to their emotional health. In addition, availability of washrooms was a concern — with no water or power available at the site, Goh said there had been discussion of setting up a porta potty.  

“It’s also been commented that some of the service workers might be able to use that as well,” offered Goh, “So we’ve doubled the use of that.” 

Cost for a porta potty runs $1,500 for six months, with two pump-outs per month, according to LCC member Gayle Baker, and it was unclear whether potential campers would be expected to pay a fee to park on the property. 

“It’s not to say that there won’t be costing here, but we always find creative ways to deal with that, and we’ve been pretty good at fundraising,” said Goh. “There has been talk about maybe the CRD being able to financially support this in some way, and that would be most welcome.” 

Commissioners were sympathetic but expressed concerns about conflict — not only with pool patrons and community gardeners come spring, but more immediately with significant project work taking place this month. CRD staff will require near-constant access this winter to the storage area on the property — and the gravel road leading to and from it. That leaves the least-muddy spot on the property out of the running for camper space; Chuan council’s other suggestion, offered Goh, was to perhaps also allow campers to use some parking spots at the pool. 

“There are a lot of people in the community who just wish these kinds of challenges just somehow evaporated,” said LCC member Brian Webster. “That doesn’t happen; I appreciate you taking the initiative, but I’m really concerned about our staff [being able] to manage the CRD properties we have, and this has kind of been sprung on them. I appreciate that something was talked about in October, but there was no proposal that’s been on an agenda.”

Parks manager Dan Ovington said that in previous years there was discussion of a group submitting a park use permit application for staff to review, but that had never materialized into a formal proposal. 

“So we’re into December,” said Ovington. “Staff are in the middle of the recreation centre shutdown. In addition to the regular pool maintenance that we’re doing, we have multiple replacements that are going on within the filtration room. And in addition to that, as you may have noticed, there’s a very large construction project happening in the middle of Ganges. I just want to remind everybody of everything that’s in motion that’s extremely time-sensitive to our existing obligations.” 

“We would have proposed sooner, I think,” said Goh, “if we could have had a magic ball to see ahead into the future. But we were hoping things [at Drake Road] would work out. I know this is a late proposal, but it took a lot of internal discussion for us to feel that we could have the capacity to help with this project.” 

Holman asked whether Chuan would be willing to be the designated responsible party for a park permit. 

“It would require things like liability insurance, provisions surrounding drug and alcohol use at the site, and ensuring a limited number of campers,” said Holman. “Because once it’s established, folks will tend to gravitate to it.” 

Goh said the details could be ironed out — because it needed to happen. 

“I think what we need to do is run it by our council, and speak to the potential campers,” said Goh. “We didn’t imagine this was going to happen without conditions to protect the site, as well as respect what’s happening there.” 

Goh said Chuan’s council would be meeting soon, so plans were made to coordinate with one or two LCC members in the coming days to bring forward a formal proposal for use of CRD land — hopefully before temperatures drop further. 

“I think with the human realities of the people involved, I’d just ask everybody to be as understanding as possible,” said Webster. “The fact is there’s a time pressure here. Let’s all do the best we can.” 

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