A 51-year-old Chilliwack woman has died at a homeless camp hidden in the woods near Wal-Mart.
Glenda Herrling was sleeping in a one-person tent that was pitched inside a canopy-like structure. Snow weighed down the roof and stressed the metal framework, causing it to collapse. Glenda wasn’t found until the next morning when her sister, Veronica, went to check on her.
Veronica, 56, also lives in the homeless camp, as does her 70-year-old mother and Glenda’s son.
Veronica said she waded through knee-high snow to Glenda’s tent, which was about 30 yards away, to see if she wanted to go to the store for food.
“No one else had been over to see her because there were no footprints,” Veronica said. “The snow was high and I couldn’t access the tent.”
“I was like, ‘Glenda! Glenda! Glenda!’ but she wasn’t responding and it was scaring me.’”
Veronica said she finally found her way inside, but the snow-laden roof was sagging so much she still couldn’t see her sister.
“I looked again and I saw her feet and I said, ‘Wake up sis. It’s me. You’ve got to get up now.’”
Veronica said she shook Glenda’s foot over and over, but she didn’t stir. Veronica pushed the sagging roof away with all her might and tried desperately to get a response. She called for help and a man who was camped out nearby rushed over.
“He and his friend removed all the snow and everything, but they told me there was nothing they could do for her.
“She was deceased.”
The coroner’s service is still investigating and the cause of death has not been confirmed.
Veronica pointed her finger squarely at the RCMP Monday morning, saying they are the reason Glenda was forced to live and die in the forest. She claims the RCMP told Chilliwack landlords they shouldn’t rent to her family.
“They’ve told all these property managers that if they rent to us, in a 9-1-1 situation they can forget about getting a response,” Veronica said, huddled under blankets inside her own makeshift shelter.
Police are familiar with several members of the extended Herrling family who’ve been before the courts in recent years, but RCMP spokesman Mike Rail said it’s out of bounds for them to tell landlords who they can and cannot rent to.
He said the RCMP would never threaten to withhold emergency response.
“911 is a legislated service that cannot be withheld from the public,” he said. “When RCMP are called we respond.”
But Veronica went a step farther with her accusations, claiming police have been in and out of their homeless camp countless times seizing items they depend on for survival, including propane tanks, axes, saws, shovels, bicycles and generators.
“They take anything that would make life a little simpler out here, and Glenda really resented that.” Veronica said. “She didn’t deserve to be out here. I don’t think any of us do and I hope the way she died becomes a catalyst for changes.”
Rail said that if officers are seizing items, they have reason to do so.
But in cold and snowy weather, he said the first priority for police is trying to get people indoors so tragedies like this don’t happen.
“We perform regular patrols in the camps to ensure the safety of the persons living in the camps as well as pursue any criminal investigations,” he explained. “Police encourage people in the camp to move to safe shelters and we are even prepared to transport those people who agree to go to a shelter to ensure they get there safely.”