In her spare time Reina Morris crochets high-quality dog blankets.
She used to donate them to animal shelters but last week she brought her first one to the Regina Park encampment, Camp Namegans. Morris lives nearby, and has made the five-minute walk a few times to bring potted tomato plants and other food to the 93 people and eight dogs currently living there. She’s now crocheting a second blanket.
“I can’t live here and not recognize the people here,” Morris said. “Let’s face it, if things went bad for me, I’m only one step from living here. This is where I’d go if I lost my housing.”
Morris is one of the many supportive neighbours whose voices go unheard in what has become a highly divided discussion about the park, she said.
“You only hear about [the negative] side of what happens here,” Morris said. “This is a community.”
It’s the same for Ann Harris, who has lived at Burnside and Tillicum for eight years. She’s visited Namegans three times and feels the Regina Park residents are blamed as a group for things that aren’t necessarily their fault.
“I went there, I talked to people, no one seemed dangerous or bad, they just seem like they’re living without homes.”
New research shows why people are likely to associate crime and danger with Regina Park. University of Victoria nursing student Morgan McCarthy studied 434 news stories from 18 local and regional news outlets about the 2016 Super Intent City at the lawn of the Victoria court house.
A scholarly article based on that project is currently under peer review, said associate professor Bernadette Pauly of University of Victoria’s school of nursing, who oversaw McCarthy’s study.
“It shows how the media unfairly labeled the residents of Super Intent City and now it’s happening again,” Pauly said.
On July 13, Saanich Police released a statement that eight people from Regina Park were arrested for shoplifting by officers in plain clothes at Uptown and other businesses in the area.
Earlier that week, the District of Saanich issued a release that Saanich Fire responded to a fire at Regina Park. It turned out to be nothing more than excess grease in the barbecue, the same barbecue Insp. Trent Edwards cooked on at the Camp Namegans community potluck the following night.
“Shoplifting happens regularly, almost daily, but we never report about shoplifting or a barbecue fire on the front page of the newspaper,” Pauly said. “This is targeting and blaming.
“The address of the people arrested for shoplifting, also, is not normally reported. Why is it okay to violate this when it’s homeless people?”
What McCarthy and Pauly found from interviewing members of Super Intent City in 2016 was a dialogue around the need to meet basic human rights such as sanitation, food, water, safety, housing, and freedom from discrimination in the pursuit of these things.
However, they found the dialogue in the media associated the homelessness issue with crime and drug use in a way that was unfair and inaccurate, Pauly said.
“Canada is a signatory on the established international standards for basic human rights, that includes the right to pursue these without discrimination,” Pauly said.
The arrest of Camp Namegans organizer Chrissy Brett on July 6 – she was accused of impeding a Saanich Fire officer – furthered the crime narrative. Brett argues that the arrest was unnecessary.
Island Health’s role is also a factor. As a public health agency, one could say its Island Health’s responsibility to ensure the basic health rights for people at Regina Park in the way it’s supporting the people in Nanaimo’s tent city. At the moment, there are toilets on site, drinking water at a fountain about 240 metres up the Galloping Goose, and showers about 650 metres away at Saanich municipal hall.
Several neighbours expressed their discontent at Saanich’s June 21 special council meeting while others asked for dignity and patience. Letters to the editor and callers on the local radio station prove there is an unsympathetic part of the population who wish to see the park ‘de-camped’ and everyone forcibly removed. More than one Saanich councillor has acknowledged this won’t alleviate the ongoing issues people there face, though Saanich has begun measures that could lead to the camp’s eviction.
“As a society we have failed to comply with international standards of basic human rights and people in tent cities [in this case those at Regina Park] are forced into survival tactics,” Pauly said. “We should not profile or blame people for society’s problems.”
“There’s a criminal element in all parts of the community. We should build homes for these people and give them the ability to clean up and get work, mental health care, good food, and general support,” Harris said. “People who are homeless get less support, I’m a person with a disability, I get lots of support, but they’re the ones who need the most support.”