Some residents who live in the neighbourhood around Keystone Drive, located near the Cowichan District Hospital, are getting fed up dealing with abandoned camp sites on the nearby trail systems.
Mark and Tom, who asked their last names not be used, love to hike along the Trans Canada Trail system and the many trails that fork off from it, and have been doing it for years, but the growing number of homeless camps in the area has cut into their enjoyment of the trails.
Tom and his wife recently went into one of the abandoned camps and hauled two pick-up truck loads of abandoned tents, tarps, sleeping bags and assorted garbage and drug paraphernalia out of the woods.
“I sympathize with their situation, but they are just dumping all this garbage and camping gear in the woods and leaving it there,” Tom said.
“I’ve counted at least eight of these camps along the trails here. I’ve been walking these trails for many years, but the problem with these camps only started in the last three or four years.”
Mark is also a long-time user of the trails and has become dismayed with the growing number of homeless camps in the area.
He has also led volunteer clean up crews from the neighbourhood from time to time in an effort to clear some of the debris out of the woods.
Both are frustrated that local authorities are not doing more to deal with the problem.
“North Cowichan, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the City of Duncan need to form a plan,” Mark said.
“Each needs to kick in some money for more bylaw officers and other measures to deal with this is. They need to talk to each other and make it someone’s responsibility. But we do understand there are no simple solutions here.”
The Trans Canada Trail in that area comes under the jurisdiction of the CVRD, but many of the trails that branch off of it run through private property, and some of the camps are located on properties that are within the boundaries of North Cowichan.
Rachel Hastings, a senior bylaw officer with North Cowichan, said the municipality had received complaints from the public regarding one of the camps and bylaw officers went to the area last week.
“We did confirm that the location is on private property and are following up with the property owner,” she said.
“As with any bylaw-compliance action, it is required that reasonable timelines be applied to facilitate a successful outcome.”
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said he’s surprised at some of the places homeless camps turn up.
He said he took a trip on the E&N rail line between Duncan and Nanaimo last fall and saw many of them in out of the way places that can’t be seen from the highway.
“I sent pictures to our bylaw officers and they cleaned out the camp sites that I saw,” Siebring said.
“The Cowichan Tribes are also having extensive problems with these camps on their lands. It’s an ongoing problem that has bedevilled the municipality long before I became mayor, but it is getting worse.”
Siebring said just building houses for the homeless is not going to solve the problem, and he, and other members of the Cowichan Leadership Group have asked the province for urgent funding and support to assist housing challenges in the Valley, as well as drug addiction programs.
Last month, the CLG, which includes the heads of local governments, school board, MLA Sonia Furstenau, MP Alistair MacGregor, and RCMP and health authorities, wrote to 10 separate provincial ministries seeking aid.
“We need money from all these ministries to provide the comprehensive services that we need to deal with these issues,” Siebring said.
“Each of the members of the CLG intend to send follow-up letters to each of the ministries outlining the specific areas in which they are being impacted by homelessness and addictions. We want them to understand that we are doing the best we can, but we need help.”