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Chilliwack heads to court to evict homeless camp from parking lot

Obtaining an injunction could take four to five weeks, but then RCMP would be able to enforce it
Council is proceeding with the paper work to apply for a Supreme Court injunction to remove an entrenched homeless camp in Empress Lane in downtown Chilliwack.

It's a go for City of Chilliwack to use the legal route to remove the homeless campers entrenched in a downtown parking lot.

Council voted to ask its legal counsel to proceed with applying for the injunction on Tuesday.

It could take up to four or five weeks, according to Glen MacPherson, director of operations at City of Chilliwack.

Coun. Jason Lum wanted to know if getting a court injunction was the "only way," or if in fact it was the only "path forward?"

"It really is the last resort," Lum said.

A group has been camping outdoor under tarps and tents pitched in the Empress Lane parking lot, behind Five Corners Park.

"Without voluntary compliance (by the parking lot campers) the City's hands are tied," said MacPherson.

RCMP would enforce court-ordered injunctions to vacate the camp.

Short of bylaw and private security repeatedly advising the campers of where to seek help for addictions, and other help and support, "there's not a lot we can do," MacPherson told council.

There were shelter spaces open in local Chilliwack agencies such as the Salvation Army but they didn't want them.

"I can confirm those services were offered on a daily basis," said MacPherson.

Some have told officials they would move into no-barrier facilities.

But none are available — yet. That is the brick wall that all B.C. municipalities in similar circumstances are facing, although there may be provincial funding soon with the latest announcement of $500 million for affordable housing and to fight homelessness.

Not only that, but there is $700,000 set aside in the city coffers for Chilliwack's share of a future facility.

Coun. Ken Popove noted this group in Empress Lane seems feel entitled.

"It's a tough group. This is our only route. We have to put our foot down and be firm. We are serious about keeping our town safe. This is the route we have to take. If we don't it's going to become worse."

Coun. Chris Kloot wanted to know where the transients are coming from, and why are they coming into Chilliwack.

"They're from back east, up north, different places," answered Coun. Popove. He suggested they could be coming into town on the inexpensive FVX #66.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz announced she's received a petition from the homeless group.

"They asked for a safe place to stay," she said, adding they acknowledged that some do illegal drugs.

She said the group has one person from Mexico camped out, one from Victoria, and other locales.

"There are some of the entrenched from here, who've fallen on hard times. There is a variety of people," she said. "The idea that it's a huge influx from outside is not true. Many are long-term residents, but some new ones for sure."

They are waiting on a request to the province for emergency shelter funding to open up more spaces at the Salvation Army or Cyrus Centre, and other projects.

"We are hoping they will be approved shortly," Gaetz said.

The mayor said she's worried and concerned about residents retaliating against the presence of the increased number of homeless and addicted on the streets.

But they aren't 'low-barrier' or 'housing first' type facilities here, which means that those battling addictions don't technically have to be in recovery or clean and sober to live there.

Chilliwack is "moving in those directions," she added.

"In the meantime I think people are frustrated they feel they can't go anywhere in parks without stumbling on needle, or having people shooting up in front of children."

Coun. Sue Attrill said many of the entrenched are in need of no-barrier options, as well as more rehab spaces, and zero barrier facilities.

"So we can place these people in situations that are going to help them," she said.

Coun. Chris Kloot said micro houses might be worth a look.

"Every community is struggling with more homeless. Our climate has a lot to do with it."

Coun. Chuck Stam said some in the encampment "are not housable" and "There is a reason they are on the street. They don't like rules."

Coun. Sam Waddington asked folks who want to help to speak to Salvation Army, Cyrus Centre or Ruth and Naomi's Mission, those who are working on "long term" solutions, and not just temporary help.

"So those who are stopping at the camp and dropping off food, and not helping to solve the problem. We need to show some resolve, and show compassion responsibly, in other ways."

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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