At a council meeting on Feb 6, Downtown Squamish residents expressed frustration with the encampment behind Under One Roof. They urged authorities to look for solutions rather than letting the problem fester.
Representing a group of neighbours, resident Sarah Stewart told the council the situation rapidly deteriorated as new tents were added weekly.
A petition calling for removing the encampment has gained over 200 signatures, and Stewart asked the council to discuss the issue urgently. But not every councillor found the situation urgent enough to discuss it at the Feb 6 meeting. Coun. Jenna Stoner opposed a motion to discuss the problem, suggesting people apply for a delegation to speak about the issue.
“I won’t be supporting the motion on the floor in terms of urgency of the unscheduled public attendance. I appreciate that there are concerns and that there are issues to be raised, I don’t think that the solution is to have that heard here this evening. I think there is an ongoing dialogue with staff and council members and with the community with Under One Roof and that these solutions take time.” Stoner said. “I appreciate the patience, but I also think we have a process for delegation: to apply for a delegation that can be heard within two weeks. So, I don’t think anything immediate can happen in the next two weeks. I think we’d be better off having a discussion in two weeks’ time when we better understand what is going on and how we might be able to approach this in a more fulsome way.”
Mayor Armand Hurford and Coun. Chris Pettingill also expressed reluctance, but the council agreed to discuss the matter. The motion to discuss the encampment was passed, with Coun Stoner opposed.
Resident Sarah Steward described a worsening situation, marked by violence, profanity, and disruptive disturbances, including incidents requiring 911 calls. She said people have handled these situations calmly, but it has reached a tipping point, adding that they can’t be dismissed as NIMBYs.
“We are first-time parents, retirees, immigrants, and entrepreneurs, and many of us have personal experiences with addiction and mental health issues. What binds us all together is that we love our community, and we have all helped to build our little corner in one of the most densely populated areas in the district,” She said. “We have come together to express our concern and challenge the status quo. The establishment of this ‘Tent City’ brings forth a series of challenges that have a profound impact on the broader community’s public safety.”
She also raised concerns about the impact on local wildlife and the Squamish Estuary, an internationally significant bird habitat. Stewart questioned why local bylaws were not being upheld and asked for greater accountability from provincial agencies such as BC Housing.
Another resident, Amanda Graves, urged the council to respect the dignity and rights of all community members, particularly the most vulnerable. “I understand that everybody in the community is being impacted here, and I think it’s important to focus on solutions but particularly solutions that respect the dignity and the rights of all community members, particularly the most vulnerable,” she said.
She continued: “I’d also really like to highlight that while we are incredibly lucky to hop Under One Roof as a resource in our community, they don’t carry the responsibility of every unhoused individual in the district and nor are they able to offer the low barrier services that many of these folks need to serve as many people as possible, which I think they try very hard to do. I believe there are some really incredible people working in that building who are doing their best, so I would also encourage anybody taking part in these discussions to reflect on the things that make us uncomfortable and remind them that it is important to remember that just because something makes us uncomfortable, it does not inherently make us unsafe and that these are very real people that we are talking about tonight these are individuals who belong in our community just as much as you and I.”
What is the District doing?
Megan Latimer, the General Manager of Public Safety, said bylaw staff conducts regular patrols throughout the day to encourage compliance with daytime shelter restrictions and clean-up regulations. She said notices are left for occupants, detailing the requirement for a 24-hour notice to remove belongings.
“Staff have been working very closely with Helping Hands to ensure that the folks that are living in the encampment are receiving outreach support and are being connected to services and continuing to try to have those conversations to find longer-term solutions and ultimately looking at a bridge to more secure and safe housing options for those individuals,” Latimer said.
Weekly cleanups, led by Helping Hands with support from bylaw and public works staff, also address garbage and waste removal concerns. The district, she said, continues to engage with BC Housing, Helping Hands, and other community partners to explore sustainable solutions for managing the impacts of encampments.
A survey last year found 119 people were homeless in the community.
This story was written with the assistance of Squamish Democracy, a resource for local residents to access council summaries and transcripts. Local resident Elliot Salisbury founded Squamish Democracy to promote transparency and democracy in the community.