Saanich police reported that they’ve recently arrested nine people for shoplifting, eight of whom they say were connected to the Regina Park tent city, also known as Camp Namegans.
The arrests were made between Wednesday and Thursday after police increased their presence in the area.
The items stolen include electronics, clothing, chocolate bars, sunglasses,
and batteries, most of which have been recovered.
Saanich police say they will continue with increased patrols, but camp supporters say the arrests only stigmatize the camp further.
Listen Chen, an organizer with the grassroots group Alliance Against Displacement, told Victoria Buzz that Saanich police’s framing of the arrests is intended to make a causal relationship between homelessness and crime. “It’s quite pointed that they’re making the connection,” Chen said.
Chen said people shoplift when they’re poor as a means of survival, and that they’ll shoplift whether or not they’re living in a camp. She also described the police’s actions as the “criminalization of poverty.”
Audrey Moffatt, a resident of the camp and member of Camp Namegans Leadership Committee, called the arrests “ridiculous.”
Moffatt said campers are doing “everything we can with what little we have” in meeting Saanich’s demands, and that arrests aren’t helping anything.
“You’re in survival mode, so you steal,” Moffatt said. “Arrests set us up for failure … it’s hard.”
Tent city served two eviction notices
On June 8, the District of Saanich issued Camp Namegans a notice to vacate on the grounds that campers’ continued occupation of the park was unlawful.
A second notice was issued on July 12 after Saanich bylaws were amended to be in line with court decisions around overnight sheltering in parks. Campers are now prohibited from continuous occupation of Regina Park but are still allowed to camp overnight between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.
But until a court injunction is filed, Chen and Moffatt both say the current plan is for campers to stay put.
A Facebook page has been created as a place to show support for campers, and has put out calls for volunteers and supplies in recent weeks. A Meal Train page includes a list of food and other items that campers need if people are looking to donate.
On Thursday, July 12, the camp hosted a community potluck which saw over 45 people attend in a show of support for the community.
It was great to see neighbors & supporters show their solidarity! Lots of love to those who get up and fight the good fight, day in & day out! A great night and looking forward to the next one.
Saanich re-allocated funds to cover costs of park
In a report to council on July 3, director of finance Valla Tinney recommended that $700,000 be allocated from Saanich’s operational contingency funds to “cover preliminary costs associated with issues at Regina Park.”
The camp has required extra policing beyond normal operations, and the establishment of a sanitation station is estimated to have cost the district $250,000, which was included in the $700,000 allocation.
Camp Namegans has criticized the funding allocation, arguing that the funds could be better used to support the camp rather than police it.
Saanich staff have provided an online FAQ to answer questions people may have.