elderly man sleping in what appears to be a sleeping bag

Solving Campbell River’s homeless crisis

Editor’s Note: While Campbell River is two ferry trips away, it is the central hub for supplies and local government in our area. All Cortes Island residents periodically pass though Campbell River and the affordable housing crisis is found in every community. (See the charts at the bottom of this page.)

Campbell River’s latest ‘Point in Time’ (PIT) Count found 197 homeless people within the city limits. 65% of them have been in Campbell River for at least five years, and 22% were born there. They are sleeping outside, in vehicles, or in someone else’s home. When asked, a third of them reported not earning enough money to pay rent. 

“If they’re not in public places, if they are shuffled along back into alleys or nooks and crannies, they are targets. That is one of the reasons they congregate in public together. It’s safe. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run into over the last year that have got a cast, or their heads wrapped up or they’re on crutches or whatever,” explained Sue Moen, who worked for the Salvation Army prior to her retirement.

“It’s like, ‘Bylaw Enforcement pushed us along. We hung out in this alley. Four guys showed up (not members of the unhoused community),  beat us all up and stole all our stuff.’”

Cortes Currents asked Moen for her impressions of a series of motions the City of Campbell River passed at their October 10 meeting

Image credit: Sue Moen – submitted photo

The first one was brought forward by Ron Kerr, “Whereas the city of Campbell River is presently in the midst of a housing crisis and lacks suitable housing supply to meet the demand, and whereas the city’s zoning bylaw only permits the occupancy of a recreational vehicle on the site of and during the course of residential building construction, therefore, be it resolved that staff report back with options that more broadly permit the year round occupancy of recreational vehicles in the city of Campbell River.” 

Sue Moen: “I think it’s an excellent move. We know that it’s already happening. This provides the people that are already in that situation  a much more tenable tenancy and ensures that landlords become responsible for maintaining their yard, cleanliness, providing electricity and water, ensuring that the sanitation situation is dealt with. For a lot of people, an RV is a good option. It’s affordable, it’s safe, they can maintain it even on very limited incomes because most of us don’t need a ton of space.” 

Next, there’s Ben Lanyon’s motion, “That Council direct staff to report back as soon as possible on options to address community safety concerns as related to encampments in Nunn’s Creek Park and the downtown core.” 

Councillor Sean Smyth added, “It seems that we have, particularly in Nunn’s Creek,  a proliferation of dangerous conditions in and around there.  I would just like as much information as possible about what our limitations are and what our funding needs might be to  alleviate the concerns of all the neighbors.”

Sue Moen: “What I have witnessed from this council in particular, is that when they talk about downtown safety, they do not include the least safe population, which are our unsheltered neighbors.”

“I can think of at least 4 times in the last couple of years,  where at great expense to the city, Bylaw Police or RCMP, or social services people have gone in, dismantled structures and taken everything to the dump. Some things end up at City Works for people to claim, but a lot of people can’t get there,  and so they end up losing all of their belongings. Then they are left with nowhere else to go.”  

“I understand that some of the areas nearby, or even where people are choosing to camp, are environmentally sensitive. This does have to be taken into consideration, but I do believe it would be a lot less expensive to actually provide some services and some oversight on an ongoing basis for the people who believe their only option is to camp in Nunn’s Creek Park.” 

“I know the city designated the old BMX track at Homewood, on the other side of the park, as permissive permitted camping from September to April. They did put in water and I believe there’s a porta-potty. However as soon as that announcement was made, people were publicly threatening anybody who camps there. No one is going to camp there again unless there are services and security provided for them. It’s also totally exposed. There’s no protection from the weather in that spot, whereas there is in the trees.” 

“There should be a balance of designating a more protected area and providing some ongoing services from the city, like garbage pickup, like bathrooms, whether it’s a porta potty or reopening the bathrooms at Nunn’s Creek Park, and regular patrol not just by social services, but by RCMP and Bylaw. That way they can address any perceived criminality and safety issues both for other people using the park and also for the people who are staying there.” 

“We haven’t even addressed the whole Colonial aspect. When you look at our PIT count numbers, 50% of the unhoused people are Indigenous. Council and others continue to talk about moving them along, dispossessing them of their spaces and their land again. You can’t give a land acknowledgement and then throw people off their own land over and over and over again.” 

Lastly there’s councilor Susan Sinott’s motion, “that the report dated October 10th, 2023 from the Chief Administrative Officer regarding downtown and community safety be received for information and that Council approve funding of $471,000 per year, for three years, to further expand municipal resources at our Public Works and Downtown Safety Office to address concerns with community safety.”

“I think it’s worth saying that this is one of the first important steps that this council will now be taking publicly that’s been behind the scenes. And for people who thought we weren’t doing anything, this is the first of several steps that will be coming forward. I hope it shows that this council is committed to one of our primary objectives to improve downtown safety and I do thank our CAO for working so diligently on this.”

Sue Moen: “It’s a situation that I don’t think we can bylaw our way out of. We can’t police our way out of it. If the city is going to invest in that side of the equation, I would rather they would  invest a similar amount into addressing the root causes of those perceptions of our downtown not being safe – because for a whole lot of us, it is safe.”

“I think a much better investment would be increasing and supporting  programs like the Archive,  and Community Action Team and a lot of other agencies have programs at the OPS. Give them somewhere to go, give them amenities, give them activity, give them meaningful involvement in the community.”

“$471,000 sounds like enough money to renovate and open a space partner with other levels of agencies for funding for staffing.  If they’ve got that kind of money to invest, then invest in long term solutions that address the root causes. Partner with Health, partner with  BC Housing. They say that housing isn’t there or mental health or addiction services are not their responsibility. Technically, no, they’re not, but I would argue they’re all of our responsibilities and we all have to be involved in the solution. If you have that much money to invest, then look at investing it upstream instead of at the waterfall.”

CC: What can be done to solve Campbell River’s homeless problem? Can it be solved?

Sue Moen: “Maybe, not in my lifetime. This crisis has been building for decades and so it might take us decades to turn it around. Even if all the money was there to build all the housing we need,  it’s not going to happen in six months or a year or even two years. Number one, where are all the workers going to come from? We all have to be prepared for that, but we all have to be involved in turning it around, not in perpetuating it.” 

“Council cannot continue to perpetuate the stereotypes by blaming them, by calling them ‘eye sores,’ by shuffling them along, trying to get them out of sight. That is not a solution.”

“Treating them as less than human isn’t a part of the solution.”

“Not including them in developing steps towards a solution is discriminatory, and it will fail.” 

“I think the best thing we can all do, including our mayor and council, is not to offer these quick expensive and often ineffective solutions.

“I have always encouraged our elected representatives to be at the tables and work with staff and work with the community to develop and actually implement projects  that will make a difference.”

“Spend a lot more time with the  people who are worried about our downtown ,who are worried about tourism or business. It’s spending a lot more time educating them, raising awareness about the complexity of the causes of this crisis, and bringing people to the table to be part of the solution.” 

“The Coalition to End Homelessness has done amazing work since its inception. It is a coalition with very little funding. They can’t implement solutions. They don’t do projects. They’re a coalition.  I don’t know exactly what it takes, but get other parts of the community: business, developers, real estate agents, landlords, the city itself to the table. We all have to be involved in turning it around, not in perpetuating it.”

Data from surrounding communities

Campbell River’s 2023 PIT Count

Top image credit: Homeless – Photo by Wonderferret via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License) 

Sign-up for Cortes Currents email-out:

To receive an emailed catalogue of articles on Cortes Currents, send a (blank) email to subscribe to your desired frequency: