Public safety issues arising from a homeless camp under the Yale Road overpass in Chilliwack led to a fence going up this week.
But that is only part of the story. It’s also about solutions being sought collectively at the community level to help those in need.
Chilliwack Healthier Community, CHC is a coalition of 32 agencies and organizations, moving forward on an action plan to address some of the safety concerns, arising from the discovery of garbage, used needles and human feces.
The cement enclosure under the overpass was being used as a place for some homeless to congregate and take shelter. Most were opting not to ditch their carts and belongings to enter a homeless shelter for the night.
So the CHC has mapped out a few ideas, including the one where they fence off the cemented area, and increase education and awareness of local services, to help address some of the irritants.
Enter local Sally Ann reps in partnership with the City of Chilliwack, tackling part of the problem directly.
“One of the barriers was that there was no place to park their shopping carts and store their items safely at our shelter,” said Tim Bohr, director of community ministries for Salvation Army.
“Their whole world is in that cart. We have the capacity to store a backpack or a couple of suitcases, but we didn’t have the capacity for shopping carts.”
Now they do.
“They (city officials) said to us, ‘What would you need?’ and I said we could use a container specifically for that function, and that was it,” said Bohr.
Open communication was credited for the swift action being taken.
“We are very pleased with the pro-active, compassionate and collaborative approach taken by the CHC to address this need within our community,” said Bohr.
It’s “another creative solution” meant to help those in need, agreed Mayor Sharon Gaetz.
She took to social media Wednesday to respond to criticism about the fence going up:
“The City of Chilliwack cares deeply about the homeless and at risk individuals in our community and is taking a team approach to actively address homelessness in our community,” wrote the mayor.
That’s why they got together with agencies like the Salvation Army, Ruth and Naomi’s, Cyrus Centre, Contact Centre, who are in regular contact with the street community, and have been offering feedback as to what’s needed.
“We’re listening,” Gaetz said.
But city officials could not turn a blind eye to the growing rumble of public safety concerns from the area where the homeless were congregating.
“Items such as discarded needles and human feces are not acceptable in public places,” she said.
They started installing the fence on Monday while the Salvation Army and the other agencies with CHC worked with the affected population to help any displaced individuals.
“We are glad that we are able to apply the extensive expertise of the many health and social service organizations that make up the CHC in order to find creative solutions and address areas of need,” said CHC committee chair Coun. Ken Popove.
He credited frank discussion that allowed a swift, “collaborative and compassionate approach.”
Crews are installing safety lighting on a used 20-foot container that has been parked on the Sally Ann site.
“We’re very pleased. This is a good story and outcome. We were able to approach it with compassion,” Bohr added.
The new padlocked storage container is right next to the shelter, and will be used to secure belongings, carts and more.
“That is one considered one of the barriers as to why they don’t engage (with shelter services), but there are other barriers,” said Bohr, underlining issues like mental health, addiction, loss of personal freedom.
“But we decided to chip away at the barriers, and this was one of them.”
“We are glad that we are able to apply the extensive expertise of the many health and social service organizations that make up the CHC in order to find creative solutions and address areas of need,” said committee Chair, Councillor Ken Popove. “Through open discussion we are able to take a collaborative and compassionate approach in a timely manner.”