North Cowichan Counsellor Rosalie Sawrie works on assembling a picnic table in the homeless tenting compound. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Resident concerns abundant over Fuller Lake Arena parking lot homeless tent site

Theft, nearby trails only the beginning of alarm bells for those who live in the area

The list of concerns is long among residents living in the vicinity of the homeless tenting site in the Fuller Lake Arena parking lot in Chemainus that was set up Tuesday afternoon in preparation for occupants Wednesday.

Individuals identified and nominated by the COVID-19 Vulnerable Population Cowichan Task Force were invited to self-isolate on the site, not anyone who is symptomatic or has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a letter circulated to nearby residents by the organization’s co-chair John Horn last Thursday afternoon.

“Emergency response sites like this one are a short-term solution to the COVID-19 pandemic until longer-term solutions can be found,” the letter from Horn went on to say. “BC Housing recognizes the urgent need and is committed to working with partners to develop permanent supportive housing in the region.”

There has not been a problem with COVID-19 in the homeless population within the Cowichan Valley to this point. When asked why this encampment is being set up now – two months after restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus went into place and conditions are just being relaxed – Horn admitted, “it is a bit funny in that sense.”

He said the organization was ready in April, but the money wasn’t there at the time.

The camp is only supposed to remain in place until the end of June – but could be extended – and with less than 12 people on the site.

“June 30 is the target date for closing these things,” Horn confirmed. “It seems we’re on a positive track. My sense is the June 30 deadline is probably a realistic deadline. I don’t see us having a second wave.”

Buller Street in Ladysmith is another site that’s been established, along with a couple of Duncan locations. Some of those haven’t gone up yet because residents in proximity still need to be notified.

There was initially going to be six to eight sites located in the area from Duncan to Ladysmith, but that’s been downscaled.

Horn conceded he’s received a lot of calls from people about the Fuller Lake camp – most concerning theft of property and use of trails that are adjacent to the site.

One resident of Fuller Lake Road, who asked not to be identified to avoid any possible retaliation, said their family has gone to great lengths to protect their property in advance of the encampment becoming operational.

“I can speak for our neighbours, ourselves,” she said. “We have all bought security cameras. We put in four cameras. They put in four next door and barbed wire. You’re going to get stolen from, for sure, and lock everything up. We pay taxes and we’re having to basically move out of our normal routine because they’re doing this.”

The resident said she understands this is happening everywhere, but “this is not a solution and it’s already established this is not a solution. They’ve tried this in other communities and it doesn’t work.

“I don’t believe the homeless are helpless. I believe it can happen to anyone. The choices they made after that is why they have no family or resources. They have alienated their personal support system.”

There are countless examples of trouble at numerous homeless sites, she said, including Nanaimo, the Victoria area where the city bought a hotel to house them and on the Lower Mainland in Oppenheimer Park.

“I don’t believe sprinkling pixie dust on Chemainus homeless makes them superior homeless people.”

Many have cited the isolated location as being ideal, but that doesn’t wash for the residents along Fuller Lake Road, Cottonwood Road and Crozier Road who are all too familiar with incidents from two drug houses in the vicinity.

“You can’t pick an isolated location further back and then give it to a community that doesn’t have any police,” the resident indicated.

Dedicated security will be on site from 10 p.m.-6 a.m., with rotating patrols during daytime hours when Horn conceded the campers are free to come and go as they please.

That sparks further concerns from residents about Fuller Lake Park which is a short walk away and kids swimming in the water during warmer days.

“Something that’s going to get thrown in the water is going to be there for them to step on,” said the resident.

“My concern is they’re going to ruin the beautiful trails and how are they going to clean it out after when they’ve left,” wondered another resident.

“This location doesn’t make any sense. It’s tucked away backing onto woods. During the day, you can’t contain them.”

The resident said just last year she started letting her young daughter walk to the lake. “Obviously, that’s not going to happen this year.”

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Quality tents have been up in the Fuller Lake Arena parking lot site for the homeless. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Chris Robinson of Cowichan Neighbourhood House, part of the set-up team. (Photo by Don Bodger)

North Cowichan Mayor Al SIebring helps Chris Istace to put up a tent. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The complete enclosure for the homeless tenting site at Fuller Lake Arena. (Photo by Don Bodger)

The view from the outside as volunteers work to put up tents on the inside. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Security checks in at the homeless tenting site. (Photo by Don Bodger)

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