A group of advocates for the homeless are calling on the City of Courtenay to exercise a little co-operation and good will towards a group of residents facing eviction from the Maple Pool Campground and RV Site.
The city considers their occupancy illegal.
Dale Bishop criticizes the city for being “callous and capricious” in the manner in which it is addressing the issue at Headquarters Road, where Dali and Jin Lin operate a Community Living Project for 54 low-income earners, seniors, disabled individuals and the homeless. The City has initiated legal action against the Lins for not complying with a zoning bylaw, says chief administrative officer Sandy Gray.
“We’re of the opinion that Maple Pool has a legal, non-conforming use,” said Bishop, who has a community planning background. “These are people who have few, if any, options in terms of housing. Most of them will end up on the street because this community has no capacity — I mean zero — to absorb them.”
He notes the Dawn to Dawn Action on Homelessness Society is the only Courtenay agency housing the homeless.
Fellow advocate Tom Grant, a Comox councillor who is a director at Dawn to Dawn, said many of the residents came from homeless situations, be it underneath the bridge at Simms Millennium Park or the bushes by the Condensory Bridge.
“These were real abject homeless people who are now being housed and have a dry roof over their head. They’re not a burden on society,” said Grant, who feels the Lins’ hospitality is part of the solution to solving homelessness in the Valley. “In the meantime, you’ve got half these councillors in the City of Courtenay advocating for a homeless shelter, which does absolutely nothing to house homeless people.”
“They are placing these people in harm’s way,” said Dick Clancy, a retired police officer. “If those people are out on the street, they are not safe. It’s cold, wet and it’s violent out there.”
Gray said the advocates are clouding the issue by talking about the tenants, who he said are a matter for the property owners.
“What they’re trying to do is throw lots of emotion into this, but the issue is land use,” Gray said, noting Maple Pool sits in a floodplain. “Because it’s a legal thing we really can’t talk about it. It has nothing to do with the tenants…It’s never been zoned for a campsite, it’s just been called a campsite.”
Bishop said Maple Pool has been continuously occupied year-round for 30 years. He maintains the city assured the Lins the site was properly occupied and zoned when they went for mortgage money. However, the campsite flooded two winters ago, at which point Bishop said administration concluded the City could be liable if the flood caused an injury. It therefore proposed to council a bylaw enforcement, causing eviction of the residents.
“In effect the city has chosen to put a minor issue of liability well ahead of the welfare of 54 persons,” Bishop said. “This city continually and consistently deals with that kind of liability when they rezone properties and issue building permits by having the owner sign a release.”
For instance, he said the City had the owners sign off on the Old House Hotel that is built over the floodplain and extends into a 30-metre setback from the Puntledge River.
The Lins are prepared to propose a solution if the City would listen, added Bishop, noting the couple has completed the necessary engineering and environmental work to ensure little or no risk of flooding.
Gray said the City would consider such a proposal but nothing has come forward. He also notes the Province has recommended an increase in flood elevations at sites such as the Lewis Centre, which has increased by one metre.
“If they’re coming in with a plan, they’ve got to come in just like any other property owner,” Gray said. “It’s no different for us from a city point of view. Lewis Park is an example where it’s more or less subject to a controlled flood because we have a walkway that goes all the way around, which is basically a dyke.
“Maple Pool is just another example. Their property is quite a bit below the flood elevation. It’s all based on empirical information.”
Gray said the Lins were given about a year to come up with a plan to apply for zoning, which he said they have not done.
“Council gave them lots of opportunity to come in with rezoning and they have not done that,” Gray said. “It has nothing to do with the tenancy down there. It has to do with how you’re going to use your land.”
Bishop, however, maintains the city is treating the Lins differently from other developers and is not willing to seek a solution such as rezoning and berming.
Bishop also notes a Vancouver Island Health Authority survey conducted last winter identified 51 people living on the street.
“And our city council wants to add another 54 to the total,” said Bishop, noting the eviction will add some $2 million a year to the welfare bill. “What in God’s name are we thinking? It makes absolutely no financial sense for this community.”