A “mutual community support” group that had set up camp at 161 Drake Rd. in late September appears to have largely met a Nov. 7 deadline to vacate issued last week.
Several individuals remaining at a 161 Drake Rd. encampment were packing up as the Driftwood was going to press on Monday afternoon, with Green Ground Community Design Society’s Nejmah Guermoudi saying that BC Housing representatives told the group a dumpster would likely be offered shortly. Outreach workers were also at the site offering to help people fill out forms to apply for income assistance — which many don’t need, she said.
“Quite a few don’t actually require income assistance, because they are working members of the community,” said Guermoudi. “They’re also getting people signed up for the BC Housing registry, which we all know can take up to three years or longer to actually get placed in a home. It’s not enough.”
A BC Housing spokesperson confirmed a Notice of Trespass was delivered to 161 Drake Rd. Monday, Oct. 30 — on behalf of the leaseholder, the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation (PHRC) — asking people living there to “voluntarily leave the site and remove personal possessions including vehicles” by Nov. 7. On the morning of Nov. 8 only one vehicle remained at the site.
“The Drake Road property is leased by BC Housing and is slated for development,” read a statement to the Driftwood from BC Housing, which administers properties held by PHRC. “BC Housing recognizes the challenges with lack of affordable housing in the community, and that’s why permanent housing is being built at this site.”
The agency has been planning to build 28 units of supportive housing on the site since it announced its lease from the Capital Regional District (CRD) in early 2022. Complications with both contractors and the riparian parcel itself have been blamed for delays, although BC Housing representatives have said the project could still be completed by the end of 2024.
Local elected officials and community organizers with direct ties to the campers had met with BC Housing representatives prior to the trespass notice, and as the Driftwood went to press last Monday the Drake Road property was visited by police and outreach workers — both from the Umbrella Society and from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, according to a BC Housing spokesperson. Information and resources were provided to the campers, including “free tent camping options,” they said.
Reached for clarification, BC Housing stated that referred to the dignity shelter area dedicated in the field at Mouat Park — where unhoused are allowed to set up a tent between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., with the expectation that it comes down each day.
Other options suggested reportedly included space for two people currently available at the Kings Lane temporary supportive housing facility, operated by the Umbrella Society, and some expanded capacity coming available at the former Land Bank property on Dean Road, now operated by the Lookout Society, where Salt Spring CRD director Gary Holman said he was told five or six more spaces will become available sometime this month.
The move to clear people and some eight to 10 vehicles and tents off the land was not entirely unexpected; BC Housing has previously said it did not believe that encampments generally were a long-term suitable form of housing — and that an encampment at the 5.5-acre parcel on Drake Road could create “significant risks for the wellbeing of campers and of the broader community.”
The encampment that called itself “The Sanctuary” began in late September, according to Guermoudi, as a cohesive community she said had been previously displaced multiple times from park properties.
Guermoudi said the group’s model of “mutual community support” was more valuable to people who were struggling than the “top-down, service-oriented social services industry.
“The fact that we’d had a meeting before, and they seemed somewhat receptive, it felt like a real jab, actually, to come up here and see that they’re actually trying to lock down a level of enforcement,” said Guermoudi.
It was unclear where the group will transition to, or indeed whether they would remain together. Guermoudi repeated a request for anyone with private land and an interest to reach out to her.
BC Housing said they are still finalizing details of a revised construction timeline for the supportive housing project at Drake Road.