Namegans Nation has pitched tent cities at more than 20 locations in the past year, including sites throughout the municipalities of Victoria, Oak Bay, Colwood, Langford, and Saanich. More recently, the camp occupied Regina Park for approximately five months, before being evicted by Saanich Police in mid-September. Since then, police harassment has reduced the camp size from over 100 people to less than 20. In the last month, Namegans Nation set up camp at Rudd Park, on Provincial land at Carey Road, in Goldstream Provincial Park, on private property in Saanich, near Saanich City Hall, at Cattle Point in Oak Bay, and in Central Saanich. Despite constant attacks by the police, the public, and multiple levels of government, Namegans Nation has shown an inspiring level of resilience by refusing to back down and taking an unwavering stand against state-organized homelessness and displacement in the Greater Victoria region.
Since leaving Regina Park on September 13th, Namegans Nation has been the target of violent attacks, including having fireworks and firecrackers thrown at tents multiple times. On October 21st, someone shot a firework at the camp from their car, nearly missing a tent and someone standing next to it. These attacks are happening as the camp is being evicted from place to place, and the only “solutions” on offer are wholly inadequate (such as shelter mats or nighttime-only camping in parks) – attempts to hide rather than resolve the issue of homelessness. While campers were able to stay at Regina Park for several months, they have been evicted every few days or weeks ever since.
Whenever Namegans Nation sets up tents, municipal police and the RCMP move quickly to not only ensure campers are displaced, but to make things as difficult as possible for homeless people in the meantime. At the end of their stay at Regina Park and again when campers set up tents near Saanich City Hall, Saanich Police installed stadium-like bright lights and a generator pointing directly at tents, preventing people from getting much-needed sleep. When they set up camp at Goldstream Park (at campground sites that were paid for), the Province attempted to evict them before backing down due to pressure from supporters. While campers were ultimately allowed to stay for two weeks, the Province shut down the entire campground to the public, feeding the already growing negative public sentiment against homeless people in the area.
In the last month, we have seen more brutal efforts by municipalities and police to criminalize and displace homeless people in the region than ever before. Since campers were evicted from Regina Park, police have moved in faster and have used more force to prevent campers from settling in a specific area for the long term. At the camp set up on Carey Road, 70-plus police officers from three municipal department worked together to evict about 25 campers from a piece of land belonging to the Ministry of Transportation. Police opened people’s tents without their consent and even slashed through one person’s tent in order to serve them an eviction notice. Shortly after, they arrested a supporter for crossing police tape in an attempt to deliver soup to the campers who were in the middle of being evicted from their homes. In addition to these instances of police and state violence, members of Namegans Nation have been continually harassed by the public, most often in the form of insults shouted at them from cars passing by the camp.
On Friday, October 19th, Oak Bay Police served campers a notice to cease encampment at Uplands Park the day after campers arrived there. Police did not attempt to work with campers (even though, as per a 2008 Supreme Court decision, homeless people have a right to seek overnight shelter in parks if no shelter is available in their municipality), instead, choosing to join with the Saanich Police Department to evict campers from a gravel parking lot that sits near-empty most of the time. The most recent eviction was on Saturday, October 20th, when the police moved into a farm belonging to the Ministry of Housing, arresting ten campers and charging them with mischief.
The Province, meanwhile, has made no efforts to provide adequate housing for the campers or the 1,500-plus homeless people who live in Victoria. After Goldstream Park, some campers were offered inadequate housing options such as shelter mats at different facilities throughout Saanich and Victoria. The Native Friendship Centre originally offered over 20 shelter mats, but retracted their offer after expressing concerns about having that many people from the tent city stay at their location. BC Housing offered two campers affordable housing, but after a verbal agreement was made, the offer was retracted. On October 17th, two campers accepted an offer for a room in a hotel. While BC Housing has made some efforts to work with campers to find temporary housing solutions, these are not the permanent housing options that people desperately need.
While police repression has weakened the fighting capacity of the camp, it has not succeeded in erasing the reasons tent cities exist in the first place: an unacceptable lack of permanent, affordable housing options. Attacks by municipalities and the Province have done nothing to address the crisis of homelessness; rather, they have focused on criminalizing and displacing homeless people. Namegans Nation could have folded under these disheartening attacks – but while some homeless residents have left the camp, the core of Namegans has stayed together. Individual tent cities may struggle, shrink, and even fold in the face of state repression, but the movement continues its long-term, unwavering stand against state-organized homelessness and displacement in our region.
Gaëlle Nicolussi is an activist supporter of Namegans Nation. She has supported the camp since the beginning of July when it was set up at Regina Park and has been traveling alongside it ever since.