People staying at a nascent encampment on Salt Spring are receiving eviction notices, according to a community member speaking on their behalf, as local officials grapple with the question of whether they have the responsibility — or, indeed, authority — to find them a new site.
Less than a dozen vehicles and tents have been set up by those seeking their own accommodations at an undeveloped Drake Road property, currently leased to subsidized housing provider BC Housing — intended, that agency has said, for a 28-unit permanent supportive housing development project that has yet to meaningfully break ground.
And despite the now-substantial interim between the initial proposal for that development and what may be a late 2024 completion, BC Housing said it does not support camping as a use for the parcel.
“While encampments may offer a sense of community for some people, they are not a long-term suitable form of housing,” said agency officials, in response to Driftwood enquiries, “and it creates significant risks for the well-being of campers and of the broader community.”
BC Housing said it would be working with other ministries and community partners “to connect with the campers at Drake Road and ensure they are aware of what resources are available in the community.” And as members of Salt Spring’s Local Community Commission (LCC) field noise complaints from neighbours, that body seemed eager to become part of the effort — passing an “emergency” resolution Thursday, Oct. 19, that the LCC and Salt Spring’s Capital Regional District (CRD) director Gary Holman work with BC Housing and non-governmental organizations to “explore possibilities for location of a limited number of working campers at various possible locations on Salt Spring.”
The intent of the broad resolution, Holman said, was not necessarily to immediately identify a particular location or proposal, but simply to commit everyone to “moving something forward.”
“I just find it incredible,” said Holman. “The CRD was approached in 2019 with a proposal to locate supportive housing — which was not consistent with the intent of the school board donation [of the Drake Road parcel] at all, but it was fully funded, and met a gap in our housing needs, and we’re not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Holman paused, adding “That’s four years ago.”
On the Drake Road supportive housing project in question, BC Housing repeated what it told the Driftwood in September: they are still “finalizing details of a revised construction timeline,” and would share those details with the community “shortly.” Holman said that agency had communicated they were now anticipating the project completion would take place at the end of next year — “optimistically,” he added.
The encampment at the moment does not seem to be getting larger, according to officials; neither is it shrinking. On Friday there were around eight to 10 camper vehicles and tents at the property.
“I’ve been told that some are leaving [the encampment], some might come,” said LCC member Gayle Baker. “But it doesn’t seem to be growing; there are probably the same number as there were when it started.”
Advocate Willie MacPherson confirmed individuals had received eviction notices at the Drake Road site, and said that in recent weeks both Salt Spring’s Island Community Services (ICS) and the Lookout Society had been asked if they would consider stepping up to manage the encampment.
“And they’ve said ‘no,’” said MacPherson, who provides support to marginalized individuals with addictions through ICS. “And the reason is that this is not something social services organizations do; we provide outreach support that connects folks to more services. But this is something that falls squarely in the lap of government.”
MacPherson brought a multi-part recommendation to the LCC, which outlined both short- and long-term planning goals, including an assessment of community support for an encampment in general, and — if it exists — to seek “options, funding and locations” for next winter.
More immediately, one recommendation was to reach out to islanders, asking them to volunteer “temporary space for a few of our inadequately housed workers, either at private homes or at locations owned by nonprofit organizations.”
And lacking that, MacPherson suggested the LCC itself could provide a space — and a “safety net,” he said — although LCC members admitted it was unclear how their role in delivering designated CRD services could apply.
“If and when the people currently camping at Drake Road are evicted, they’re going to go somewhere,” said MacPherson. “Our suggestion is that we [offer] some support, so they can enter the ‘social contract’ — because once they enter that social contract, we can ask them to uphold it.”
The notion of an agreement providing a place for the campers in the winter months on land owned by the CRD was floated — the chained driveway behind the Rainbow Road Pool’s parking lot was mentioned specifically — as MacPherson challenged the idea that community safety would be negatively impacted.
“I see how incredibly traumatizing it is when people don’t have any place that they’re allowed to be,” said MacPherson. “And that trauma manifests in behaviours which are impacting our community when they’re in town.”
Baker said she had been unsuccessful so far in canvassing Salt Spring landowners, attempting to find a place for the campers on private land — and, she said, the encampment residents she and fellow LCC member Earl Rook spoke with were concerned about being put too far away from Ganges.
“Most of them do not really want to drive their big campers into town to go to work every day — and they all work,” said Baker. “We know there are buses, but they’re not quite as often as they need. So diffusing them [across the island] may not be the best for them.”
Baker reiterated her belief that the Salt Spring community could provide an answer — “Let’s put the word out,” she said — but fellow commissioner Brian Webster said he wanted to see more structure in planning, possibly including formally assigning LCC members or staff to the work of trying to build connections between campers and landowners.
“Especially if the alternative is talking about the Rainbow Road site,” said Webster, “where there are some real complications to pursuing that. I would way rather not even need to have that discussion, and see if we can find other solutions.”