It was quite a sight when I arrived on Lewis Street Tuesday morning.
The street was blocked on both ends by RCMP and North Cowichan bylaw vehicles with their lights flashing as the authorities worked to help a large group of homeless people carry all their meagre belongings to the sidewalk in preparation to leave the area.
Dozens of shopping carts that were used by homeless people to move their possessions from place to place around the community were also collected to be returned to the businesses from which they were taken.
The police and bylaw officers brought in a large dumpster bin to collect garbage that filled quickly and then caught fire and filled the area with smoke as some sort of incendiary material got mixed in with the discarded clothes, cardboard boxes and other flammable materials that had been tossed in the bin.
It looked like a war zone.
The officers were responding to an ever-increasing amount of calls from the residents and neighbours of Lewis Street, located close to the Trans Canada Highway and Beverly Street, who wanted something done to deal with the growing number of transient people who seemed to have decided to make the street, and the empty lots around it, their temporary homes.
The newspaper has also received its fair share of calls from residents of Lewis Street complaining about their unwanted neighbours as the affordable housing crisis in the province deepened.
The authorities have stepped in at least three times in the past two years to clear the homeless people from the area, which is a congregating point for many due to its proximity to the overburdened Warmland shelter, but can do little to keep the people from returning.
While my heart goes out to those who find themselves living on the streets, often through no fault their own, my sympathy also goes out to the neighbours.
They did not ask to be in the centre of one of the main social emergencies of our time, and just want to live their lives in peace and comfort as the rest of us aspire to do.
One man who called me the day after the intervention by the authorities who has lived in the area for years said he has never seen the situation so bad.
He said many of the residents are afraid to leave their homes, especially at night, and are also concerned about their property values with tents, homeless people and garbage strewn all over the neighbourhood.
Who can blame them?
But then, many of those living on the streets (of course I don’t know about those on Lewis Street) are not criminals or drug users; some even have jobs but just simply can’t afford the high costs of rent these days.
A rented apartment that I moved into when I first moved to B.C. more than 20 years ago was just under $500 a month and is now renting for close to $2,000, which is quite a jump even considering the rising cost of living.
It’s widely recognized that more affordable housing is desperately needed, as well as more programs to deal with the ongoing opioid crisis, but the measures that have been taken so far are woefully inadequate.
Until we can find the solutions to these problems, I expect this week’s raid on Lewis Street will have to be repeated again and again.