Crissy Brett wants to do her part to draw attention to the homeless problem in the Cowichan Valley, and across B.C., as the provincial election approaches.
Brett, a member of the Nuxalt First Nation who lives in Crofton, has set up a small tent city on the corner of the Trans Canada Highway and Beverly Street in Duncan.
She said it’s a means of providing sanctuary and comfort for the homeless and vulnerable in the local community while waiting for both the province and Ottawa to change policies and to better support them.
Rental vacancy rates in the region are reported to be only about one per cent.
A recent bedbug issue in a local homeless shelter was quickly dealt with, but saw some clients temporarily scrambling for a roof over their heads. This compelled Brett to take action.
Brett was involved as a liaison with the tent city that was set up on public property in Victoria that drew attention to the province’s homeless problem last year, and decided on a similar strategy to drive the message home in the Cowichan Valley.
Brett set up her tents at the busy Duncan intersection on March 17 and said, while campers were few to begin with, she’s pleased with the amount of support she’s receiving from passersby.
She said she intends to be at the intersection for just a few days before setting up again in another high-profile location in Duncan for another short while to draw attention to the homeless problem and encourage voters to make it an integral issue in the provincial election.
“We want to start the conversation for more immediate change, rather than just waiting for the governments to change it on their own,” Brett said.
“We’re not trying to freak people out with our tents. We just want to talk to people on these issues and we don’t intend to be in any one place for very long.”
Const. Krista Hobday, a spokeswoman with the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment, said police have been in contact with Brett and she assured them that the awareness campaign will be peaceful.
“We will respond to any complaints, but we have received none to date in regards to this,” she said.
“We respect people’s freedom of speech and as long as it remains peaceful, traffic is not impeded and there are no other problems, we won’t intervene.”
The United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, in collaboration with Cowichan Housing Association, Our Cowichan, Cowichan Mental Health, Social Planning Cowichan, The Division of Family Practice, and the Substance Use Collective Impact Team hosted a conference on homelessness in Duncan earlier this month.
The federal government, through its Homelessness Partnering Strategy, is funding a 12-month project to bring local agencies together to develop a multi-year plan to address the issue, and more than 70 agencies participated in the conference.
Strategies and recommendations to deal with homeless issues in the Valley will be developed over the next year.