Kevin and Anna, who’ve lived in Cuthbert Holmes Park since Christmastime, say shelter housing hasn’t provided the transition they need to a more permanent residence and are hopeful that they’ve found a permanent residence in a private home which they are working to move into now. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Homeless couple in park feel unfairly targeted

“We’re not asking for the sun and the moon,” says couple living in Cuthbert Holmes Park

A couple who’ve been living in Saanich’s Cuthbert Holmes Park since Christmas feel discriminated against by a new bylaw amendment that targets the removals of chattels from public parks.

Anna and Kevin lived previously at the Tent City on the courthouse lawn and were housed at 844 Johnson but that never worked out.

Instead, living at Cuthbert, as hard as it is, has been the transition they’ve needed, they said.

“We’re lucky, we have a place now, a private home and we are slowly moving there and getting rid of our stuff,” Kevin said. “I’m not the kind of person to leave a big mess, neither is [Anna], whereas some people [tenting in parks] say [forget] this, and they leave all their stuff.”

The couple said they have already moved from their original site at Cuthbert which they left free of trash or any personal belongings.

“We clean up our sites and when we leave there won’t be a mess,” Kevin said. “We’re told we damage the ecosystem, but they [the province’s McKenzie Interchange project] just plowed over half the park.”

For Anna and Kevin, Saanich’s ruling to enforce the removal of chattels strikes at their basic rights.

“It happened in shelter housing,” Kevin said. “I had charges against me which were dropped, but I got kicked out of the shelter and then my stuff gets thrown away, and then you are back on the street with nothing.”

On top of the backlash from locals who want tenters out of Cuthbert Holmes Park, Anna and Kevin have dealt with the elements.

“During the winter the silt fence welled up with water and breached, flooding the [area]. In retrospect we didn’t realize we could have died of hypothermia,” Anna said. “There’s people who don’t like us in the park, it’s not a specific group, but they call the police. I want to say it’s not fair and a big waste of the police’s time. What am I going to do, where am I going from here, am I not allowed to exist?”

Saanich Parks and police have co-ordinated for hauling companies to come in and remove what is sometimes their stuff from the park. Meanwhile, the couple point to actual garbage that was there when they arrived.

“There’s garbage by the highway that the construction crew work around everyday, there’s an ugly old green washing machine in the middle of the park that’s been there for [probably decades],” Kevin said. “We reported a cougar three times. No one came. It was just about to lunge at me one night, it was next to me when I shined my flashlight on it and it ran.”

Aside from Kevin and Anna, there are a few other people living long term in the park as well as the odd short-term tenter.

“We’d rather be in housing, just not the supportive housing [downtown],” Anna said.

The couple explain that they have several issues with the supportive housing system – the crowding of the hallways with shopping carts, bicycles and trailers, the lack of safety and more.

When they look at recently reported vacant homes being targeted by the speculation tax they see pure greed, and wonder why they are a target. It’s too much to tell someone in a brief passing, or in a single news story, Anna says.

“How are you supposed to get that across to someone, how can you explain these things while they walk by, or in a few seconds on a TV camera?” she said. “I don’t know how brokerages, property management companies and dealerships parking their cars became more important than people’s lives. It bothers me that no one really cares how people are doing once they’re out of the view [of downtown].”

Being homeless and addicted, as many people are in Victoria, is not their choice, Anna said.

“The whole thing is a nightmare.”