A makeshift homeless camp that went up over the weekend in the laneway behind Ruth and Naomi’s Mission in Chilliwack was removed.
There were about 25 people huddling to keep warm amid some tarps, carts, bikes and tents. Officials urged them to seek shelter either at the Salvation Army or at Ruth and Naomi’s.
“We want an in-the-meantime solution to the out-of-control issues we are facing downtown with our marginalized citizens,” said Lee Phillipson, a commercial building owner and resident of the downtown.
She became the group’s unofficial spokesperson as she tried to find them an emergency solution and get them off the storefronts on Yale Road.
The camp popped up right next the RAN Family Centre, which is under construction and still many months away from completion. A modular shelter planned for the Salvation Army site on Yale Road won’t be opening until the middle of next month.
By Wednesday, the laneway was completely cleared by the noon-hour deadline for the “illegal occupiers” and their possessions, by order of a City of Chilliwack bylaw enforcement notice. There was no trace that they had been there by later that afternoon.
Phillipson said she was exhausted and feeling emotional after sleeping overnight Monday night, with the folks in the alley, to help keep them safe.
“I’ve learned so much in the past three days, like why some don’t want to go into the shelters. I’ve learned these are wonderful people,” she said. The goal is finding a way to stop forcing the homeless to keep moving around.
A RAN official later told them they would have to leave. The supper service was suspended Tuesday night.
“We need something now, a safe place they can go to,” Phillipson said.
Carrie is a 60-year-old widow who says she’s been on the streets since just before Christmas.
Up until 18 months ago, she was a homeowner who was married for 38 years.
“Life circumstances have brought me here,” Carrie said.
Businesses and commercial property owners have been putting pressure on the powers that be to do something about the growing piles of garbage, drug paraphernalia, or the feces left behind, or the appearance of tarps and figures sleeping in all the storefronts, nooks and crannies that has people complaining.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said almost every community is facing the exact same problem.
“If there was an easy answer, one of our cities would have found it,” she said.
The homeless camp that’s in Maple Ridge is a “sad” situation, she said, with illness rampant through it.
“There has to be another solution other than building a ghetto,” Gaetz said.
Of course shelters are not a solution, they are a “stop-gap measure,” she said.
But that is what the entrenched homeless are offered by the downtown patrol that consists of bylaw enforcement, RCMP and security personnel because that is what is currently available.
Many have high hopes that many will use the new temporary modular shelter opening by mid-March at the Salvation Army Care and Share site.
Phillipson said she was told there are plans to close more homeless camps.
“Our downtown cannot take another camp closure,” she said, adding it’s about what business and property owners are facing daily.
She doesn’t feel like they’re getting enough help.
Some on social media, recognized the complexity.
“There is a way to deal with the problem without vilifying the homeless or treating them as subhuman,” writes Jeff Mabbutt. “The problem is complex and has no easy quick fix. The frustrating thing is that no level of government seems to be doing anything at all. The city and the province should be working together on this, and if they can’t do it then talk to the feds for more funding.”
That type of co-operation has in fact been ongoing through the multi-agency Chilliwack Healthier Community network. A Fraser Health official commented months ago at city hall that an Integrated Case Management team was on the way for Chilliwack.
“We need to follow our Housing First policy,” Gaetz said. “The city has a strategy and we’re getting closer and closer to getting people in homes.”