One of Chilliwack’s most notorious homeless camps is on the chopping block.
Residents of the ever-growing encampment in the woods on farmland near the Evans Roundabout have been told by the property’s owner they are trespassing, and they are ordered to remove their belongings by midnight on Oct. 22.
WATCH: Inside the homeless camp
Dawnette Simons, who says she’s been living in the camp for five years, wanted The Progress to tell the public what is happening to them.
“The notice tells us we have to be out, or they can remove us by force,” she said this week with tears streaming down her face.
She is worried they will shoot her dogs and destroy her stuff.
On Friday, Simons said she was handed a “notice of trespass” directed at those who live rough at the camp, for remaining on what they say is private property, at 45305 Yale Rd.
|Trespass notice given to residents of a homeless camp on ALR land on Yale Road near the Evans Roundabout.|
The notice refers to the Trespass Act of British Columbia, and orders anyone “occupying, trespassing, loitering or otherwise remaining on the property,” to leave and remove all possessions by the deadline on Sunday night.
“Any items left behind will be discarded and removed for disposal,” according to the notice.
Simons and others in the camp repeatedly claimed they were not on private property, but on adjacent Crown land. But in fact the encampment is on 45305 Yale Rd., a property owned by The Order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
The property is under a long-term lease to Sandhu Farms out of Abbotsford, which farms the majority of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) property.
The camp has been on the radar of RCMP, outreach workers and neighbours for years. City hall has received complaints about the camp since 2014. There have been numerous raids on the property, on one occasion truckloads of bikes being removed.
Many of the individuals who have lived in the camp, which numbers approximately 20-25 at last count, are members of the Herrling family. The matriarch of the family, who is in her 70s, is still in the camp – possibly in serious medical condition but refusing to leave, according to a source.
Last winter, her daughter, Glenda Herrling, 51, died in the camp when the tent she was in collapsed under the weight of heavy snow.
|Veronica Herrling in December 2016 in her makeshift shelter in the homeless camp near the Evans Roundabout after her sister died. (Eric J. Welsh/ Progress file)|
At the time Glenda’s sister blamed the RCMP for her sister’s death, claiming police tell landlords not to rent to her family forcing them to live in the woods, a claim Mounties deny.
“She didn’t deserve to be out here,” Veronica Herrling told The Progress in December 2016. “I don’t think any of us do and I hope the way she died becomes a catalyst for changes.”
This week, Simons said they have failed to get any help from outreach workers who have visited them.
“They said they couldn’t do anything,” she said. “I asked them if there was a place for us, and they said no, they are all full. All they can do is be a voice for us.”
But Coun. Sam Waddington said he disagrees with the claim there are not enough services or beds for transient and homeless individuals.
Waddington said there as many as 55 out of 60 shelter beds left empty every night in Chilliwack.
“This is not the best place for these people to live and reside and work through whatever challenges they have had,” he said. “It’s either too comfortable to not seek services or it’s that some of these people truly don’t know they exist.”
Waddington also pointed to the huge amount of pollution on the site adjacent to a Class A watercourse.
“The environmental disaster unfolding is getting worse by the day.”
While the property is on private land, it has been the subject of numerous complaints over the years to city hall, which has pressured the owner to finally act.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said that while the issue of housing is a provincial one, the city acted as they would in all bylaw enforcement situations: in response to complaints.
“It’s not safe for people to be out in the elements,” she said. “It’s not safe for people to be outside in this kind of weather.”
Gaetz reiterated that despite the fact that some people ask the city to act, housing needs to be funded by the provincial government.
“I do need to say that I am very encouraged by the Premier [John Horgan],” she said. “I listened to him at [the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference] and they are pulling out all stops to makes sure housing is looked after in our community.
“Obviously our homeless numbers have grown. It’s alarming to us, and the fact that we have more homeless per capita than Vancouver, that is disconcerting to us. It shows to me this is an area that has fallen off the provincial radar.”
Gaetz added that the city offered to help the property owner clean up by taking the metal from her, and providing 10 bins to take to the landfill at no charge.