The long, slow dismantling of a large camp in the woods near the Evans Road roundabout began Monday morning with frustrated but generally co-operative homeless individuals packing up belongings and moving along.
Those living in the homeless camp that has been in existence for many years on the piece of private property in farmland were given a notice of trespass with an order to be out by midnight on Sunday, Oct. 22.
At light of day on Monday, individuals emerged from the woods with shopping carts, bikes, trailers, bags and other personal belongings.
When asked where he would go now, one man with a dog on a leash, a bike and a shopping cart said he didn’t know.
“In the bush somewhere,” he said. “Somewhere were there aren’t so many people.”
Dawnette Simons said she lived in the camp, which many of them thought was on Crown land, on and off for five years.
“I’m not here because I want to be here, I’m here because I have no choice,” Simons told The Progress during a visit last Friday, echoing what many have said about the shortage of affordable places to live, particularly for those with disabilities or mental health issues, not to mention addictions.
“If there was a place to go, don’t you think I’d go there? I would give anything to walk up to a tap for a drink of water.”
By noon on Monday, excavators were seen rolling into the site from the main entrance to the camp on Yale Road West. That followed visits by City of Chilliwack staff, Fraser Valley Regional District animal control officers, and two natural resources officers from the Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO).
The latter were handing out tickets ordering those “persons occupying Crown land near Evans Road” to remove all garbage and “improvements made” by Oct. 24. The main property where the camp is situated is on land owned by The Order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, much of which is farmed under a long-term lease by Sandhu Farms out of Abbotsford.
Since the camp is not on Crown land, the FLNRO was likely directing the campers to remove a makeshift bridge with shopping carts and wood they had constructed in Luckakuck Creek to get off the property.
It was there behind adjacent businesses on Evans Road where Chilliwack resident D’Arcy Gauthier was parked with his pickup truck on Monday.
|Trespass notice given to residents of a homeless camp on ALR land on Yale Road near the Evans Roundabout.|
Gauthier was allowing some individuals to load mattresses and other items into his truck. His son, who he says suffers from mental health issues and addictions, was living in the camp. He was upset the campers were ordered off the land given that most suffer from mental health problems and can’t seem to get help.
“They are human beings for God’s sake,” Gauthier said. “I’m so frustrated with the mayor. What were these people doing so wrong that they had to cut them off in October?”
Gauthier said his son suffers from some of the same issues his brother Lindsey did. Realtor Lindsey Gauthier had addictions issues, and died downtown Chilliwack in 2016 after an interaction with police.
Another camper moving his things off the site on Monday said the majority of those in the camp are on disability and can’t afford the ever-shrinking supply of low-income housing in the city.
“We tried to stay off the grid so we weren’t an eyesore,” he said.
And while some blame the mayor and city hall, the property is private and the trespass order was issued by the owner, albeit under pressure from city hall.
Griffin Security were on the front lines of speaking with the homeless individuals about leaving the property, assisted as they were by RCMP officers.
“We are here to make sure everybody is safe,” Cpl. Mike Rail said at the main entrance, emphasizing this was not a police operation but a Griffin Security job for a private landowner.
As for where the homeless individuals will go now, few had answers.
Last week Simons said outreach workers couldn’t help them, and that there are no places for them to move into.
Coun. Sam Waddington pointed to the many empty emergency shelter beds in Chilliwack each night, but even those don’t offer a long-term solution for those needing a place to live.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz pointed to the recent homeless count, which showed a large rise in numbers at a per capita rate now higher than Vancouver.
“That is disconcerting to us. It shows to me this is an area that has fallen off the provincial radar.”