Homeless camps on private property, First Nations land, and elsewhere in Chilliwack have been dismantled in recent months.
Where those dozens of people ended up is a bit of a mystery.
When the year-old encampment on the Kwaw-kwaw-apilt First Nation reserve behind Townsend Park was taken down in January, Brian Goldstone with Griffin Security was asked where he thought the people would relocate to.
“Where they are all going? I have no idea at this point,” Goldstone said during a tour of the site after the evictions.
A couple of months prior to that when another large group of homeless were evicted from private property near the Evans roundabout, one camper’s sign made it clear: “Homeless camp under attack by city hall trying to put us back out on your streets.”
Some business owners and residents are finding that latter reality to have come true, as squatters are showing up on vacant properties and indigent people are finding cover at night anywhere they can.
On Friday morning, Nicholette Devenney showed up for work at around 7 a.m. to find a huge mess on fire that could have been a disaster if it was any earlier in the morning.
Devenney works as a registered nurse at Chilliwack General Hospital, but she parks at her husband’s chiropractic clinic on Mary Street. Next door at at the doctors’ office Newcombe Family Practice was a pile of garbage and newspapers on fire by the door.
“That pile was actually on fire when I got there,” Devenney said talking about photos she took. “I put it out…. This is the homelessness problem. It has been getting really bad.”
Devenney said they also found a bucket of sharps recently as well as graffiti.
“We had to install a steel door to keep them out of the alcove in the back. And now they’ve been sleeping under the porch. And the neighbours keep calling us about parties and crap.”
The small fire brings to mind a larger one in a storage shed being used by homeless last week on Railway Avenue.
In that area, local businesses have been having serious problems with theft, vandalism and squatters.
But despite what many residents and business owners are seeing anecdotally as a growing problem, steps are being made to address the problems of addiction, poverty and homelessness and much work is underway.
Last month it was announced the old Traders Inn site is set to become modular housing with 46 units and complete “wrap-around” support services. The B.C. government has worked closely with City of Chilliwack on the project for months.
Then this week Fraser Health announced a new specialized addiction treatment centre for youth for Chilliwack, with supports like one-on-one counselling, recreation and life skills training.
In two weeks a homeless information event has been organized for the business community by the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Chilliwack BIA at the Best Western for the business community.
This info session is sponsored by Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS) and will provide an opportunity for merchants and business leaders to learn more about the local homelessness crisis.
“We will cover topics like why people are homeless, who our homeless neighbours are in Chilliwack, and what projects are coming to Chilliwack to address this crisis,” said Graham McMahon, PCRS’ Housing Development Coordinator.