Organizers behind Salt Spring Island’s warming space say they’ve been told they can stay in Mouat Park for now, after being instructed to pack up and leave or face eviction by the Capital Regional District (CRD) Friday.
A space equipped with tents, seating, cooking and warming facilities was set up on Jan. 9 in Mouat Park and organizers said they received positive feedback and indications of support from agencies and organizations on the island. Then a 72-hour notice was served by the CRD’s bylaw division calling for the removal of the warming space by the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 25.
When reached Tuesday, Warming Space Collective member Kajin Goh said after advocacy efforts he has received confirmation from a local bylaw officer that the space won’t be dismantled.
The notice served to the space Friday stated that camping overnight at a community park was prohibited by Bylaw 3795 and that the CRD did not “consent to, permit or authorize” what they called an encampment within the park. The notice stated all tents, shelters and related camping equipment had to be gone by Tuesday at 8 a.m., otherwise the CRD would remove all of this equipment.
“There’s a bit of a disconnect when the notice of removal was signed by someone who had very possibly received complaints and he has no real connection to the ground here on Salt Spring,” Goh said. The notice was signed by Mark Groulx, the CRD’s chief bylaw officer.
“We called in all our friends and supporters and reached out to all the different agencies here to make an appeal to reverse that,” said Goh.
Urban and rural housing crises are different, Goh emphasized, as in larger municipalities warming centres are set up yet this hasn’t happened here. He noted that the recent BC Housing announcement that a supportive housing development is in the works for Drake Road is a positive development.
“It’s a shift and it’s a positive thing to note that people are doing what they can,” he said. “Meanwhile, the warming space is going to keep going and it has been really important for people, not just the warmth, but nourishment, food, emotional support and everyone’s somehow becoming trained in peer support [by being] there and just being present.”
The warming space at Mouat Park is the second iteration of what was first a week-long effort that established a similar space at Peace Park on Jackson Avenue through the cold snap and the holidays.
In a video shot on Friday by Upstream Media, Goh acknowledged that going forward it is tricky given that the warming space exists on public land.
“We want to respect our neighbours,” he said. “There’s also recognition that there’s rough edges to this process. There’s a lot of people here who are dealing with different very challenging life situations and we’re trying to create support for them. And this is an interim phase where some of our friends hopefully will find stable housing soon.”
The Driftwood has reached out to the CRD’s chief bylaw officer Mark Groulx and Salt Spring CRD director Gary Holman for comment. This story will be updated when we hear back.