Work begins on clearing an empty lot on Homewood Road to be used as a campsite for up to 25 socially-distanced tents to accommodate people dealing with homelessness in Campbell River. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror

Homewood homeless camp not welcomed by neighbours

A homeless campsite on Homewood Road proposed by the City of Campbell River has upset residents of a nearby mobile home park.

“Our number one concern is the safety and well-being of the residents in my park,” said Courtney Michl, manager of the Shady Maples mobile home park. Shady Maples is across the street from the park and is partly in line of sight with the campsite across an empty field on Homewood Road.

Michl said she has 125 tenants, all are 55 years old or older. Three of the residents are 85 or older and some are single women.

The city announced May 15 that it is providing a site on Homewood Road to serve as a temporary campsite for people experiencing homelessness in Campbell River.

Work began on Monday, May 25 to prepare the site that the city said will support provincial public health orders and provide up to 25 appropriately-distanced camping sites.

The city intends to clear and grade the former BMX track, and make basic services available at that location, while provincial COVID-19 restrictions for physical distancing are in place.

RELATED: Campbell River converting unused BMX track into temporary homeless campsite

The initiative is being developed with local social service organizations, including BC Housing, the city said. Plans are in the works to arrange for a local organization to manage and operate the site, and to provide as many support services as possible on site. Services could include regular meals, social supports and health services, including visits from doctors and nurse practitioners.

“We really appreciate that the neighbours are concerned,” said Deborah Sargent, City of Campbell River manager. “As we move forward with this, if, and when, the area is ready to go to actually be used as a camp, we’re going to work even more closely with the neighbours to ensure this managed camp has limited impact on the surrounding areas.”

Sargent said the homeless issue is a “really challenging situation” and one that many communities in the province are facing. With the provincial state of emergency in place, the city has been taking direction from the provincial health officer and the Minister for Public Safety.

“We’ve been tasked with finding a solution that fits the unique circumstances and our limited resources for our community,” Sargent said. “That’s why, for the current time, we are pursuing the camp. We recognize it’s not a perfect solution by any means and certainly if there was a way we could address our homeless, vulnerable population easily, that would have been done even before the pandemic started.”

Resources are limited, Sargent said, but at the same time, this is a temporary solution.

“We are working really diligently with BC Housing on longer-term solutions and that work is ongoing,” Sargent said.

Michl said she understands the city has to look after the welfare of the up to 25 people the camp will accommodate.

“I have 125 that I have to look after,” Michl said.

The owner of the mobile home park and some of the tenants have 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.”

Since Tuesday morning residents and neighbours have been frantically sending letters, emails and making phone calls to try and make sense of this matter and to ask questions most on everyone’s mind such as…

• Why a homeless camp so close to a senior’s park, many of who would be at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19?

• Why a homeless camp that would increase the foot and bike traffic coming through Shady Maples Park, on route to illegal drug dealing and crime occurring on the ERT and surrounding area?

• Why a homeless camp which would result in more calls to RCMP with regards to noise complaints and trespassing?

• Why a homeless camp so close to businesses who have a lot at stake with regards to theft and vandalism?

• Why a homeless camp that will immediately decrease resale values of mobile homes in Shady Maples?”

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?”

Li and park tenants are also upset that there was no public consultation prior to the decision being made in-camera (not open to the public).

“Shady Maples Ventures and our residents fully support measures to protect the public, including the homeless population, during COVID-19,” Li says. “The city has a responsibility here and we are pleased that it is stepping up to take it on. What we object to is the city’s failure to consult with the community, share its deliberations, and make a decision behind closed doors.”

Park resident Paul Bertrand said the city’s solution makes us look like a “Third World country.” He questions the use of a tent city as a solution to the situation, particularly when it didn’t work in other, larger centres like Vancouver. He wonders why with the money being made available to battle COVID-19 whey more permanent housing couldn’t be found.

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Trail from the Shady Maples Mobile Home park accesses an empty field that will house C&L Supply’s new facility and is directly across from the proposed homeless camp on Homewood Road. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror