The City of Campbell River has cancelled plans to establish a safer camping location for people on Homewood Road and will instead explore an alternative option to support people experiencing homelessness in Campbell River.
“With minimizing the threat of this virus as our top priority, we continue to review options and opportunities to be as responsive as possible,” says Mayor Andy Adams. “This is a quickly evolving and constantly changing situation, and council were advised as of late yesterday afternoon that there is a promising alternative that could better address public health and security needs. After thorough deliberation at last night’s meeting, council has decided to explore another option that is more cost-effective and offers greater opportunity for meeting objectives to support the most vulnerable members of our community.”
The city is actively working to confirm details and timing.
“Our goal is to provide more information and support for people experiencing homelessness as quickly as possible, but discussions are preliminary right now, and a number of details are yet to be confirmed. As soon as more information is available, we will share that with the community,” says city manager Deborah Sargent.
The city announced on May 15 that it was going to convert the Homewood Road lot that had been cleared and developed years ago as a BMX track but which was never used. The city was moving ahead with this plan as early as Monday when equipment began clearing the lot.
Meanwhile, residents of a nearby mobile home park and adjacent businesses had written to council strongly objecting to the plan. The cancellation comes as a surprise to the Campbell River Mirror as readers of Wednesday’s print edition will see. The front-page story is about the objection to the plan by neighbours and includes an interview with Sargent. The story went to press Monday afternoon prior to today’s announcement that the plan was being cancelled.
Sargent talked to the Campbell River Mirror on Monday and discussed the city’s plans to move ahead with the project, despite the opposition from neighbours. She did say the situation was developing rapidly but gave no indication that the plan was to be scuttled.
The Mirror’s story said the owner of the mobile home park and some of the tenants had written to the city raising their concerns.
“Over the long weekend rumours began circulating within the neighbourhood (Campbellton area) of a campsite to be erected by the city for the homeless, on the unused BMX land on Homewood Road,” Shady Maples resident Sheila Keats said in a letter to the Campbell River Mirror. She added it was “a great shock and upset to the neighbourhood, as it turned out these rumours [were] indeed a reality.
“Approximately 125 seniors living across the street from the proposed site are anxious. This news blindsided everyone. We were not consulted. Meetings were not held.”
Matthew Li, owner of Shady Maples Ventures Ltd., said in a letter to city council that his tenants’ “safety concerns have been expressed directly to you through letters from some of our residents and will be augmented by a petition which is now being circulated to gather names and concerns.”
But he also says, “during COVID-19 we have seen the provincial government work with the cities of Vancouver, Victoria, and Nanaimo to eliminate the tent cities in those communities and move the affected homeless to available hotel/motel accommodation. How does the City of Campbell River justify going in the opposite direction and creating a tent city? Is there no available space at the city’s hotels and motels, which will all be suffering lost business due to COVID-19? Were these issues canvassed by staff in formulating a recommendation to Council?”
On Tuesday, the mayor said this is a rapidly-changing situation.
“This change of plans demonstrates the city’s responsiveness in a fast-changing situation, and the power of partnership to pull together and continue to pursue options that address community concerns and support members of our vulnerable population,” the Mayor adds.
The city will continue to enforce municipal bylaws, including prohibiting public nuisance and camping in environmentally-sensitive areas. People wishing to report concerns are encouraged to contact the RCMP or the City’s bylaw enforcement department.