The last 10-or-so homeless individuals evicted from a year-old encampment behind Townsend Park begrudgingly but peacefully left under direction of a security company on Tuesday.
And while they didn’t fight the eviction, the half-dozen people lingering as the bridge to their camp was dismantled said they had nowhere to go and suggested the timing was cruel.
“They should have let us stay out the winter,” said one camper who asked not to be named. “Why not just let us stay until spring?”
For about a year the sprawling tent city has existed in the woods on land on the Kwaw-kwaw-apilt First Nation reserve. The entrance to this small reserve is on Ashwell Road, but the homeless individuals created an elaborate if unsafe bridge across the drainage ditch separating the land from Townsend Park.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz reiterated Tuesday afternoon that the eviction was not a city-led operation, and the city continues to advocate the provincial government to fight homelessness.
“Today, Kwaw-kwaw-apilt First Nation informed us they were taking steps to remove people camping on their land and asked us to remove the access point to the camp as it was on City property,” Gaetz said.
“As a City, we continue to advocate the Province to provide the resources required by the vulnerable in our community, and we are hopeful that additional shelter beds, drug detox and housing first opportunities will come to Chilliwack.”
The move to take the camp down comes weeks after a similar one was dismantled using a helicopter in the Chilliwack River Valley, and another one in October was taken down on private property near the Evans Roundabout.
Littered with garbage, bike parts, and debris, the site is also the location of an historic scrapyard, piles of old vehicles visible among the tarps and makeshift structures.
Brian Goldstone with Griffin Security, the company hired to evict the campers, said the mess on the land along with recent thefts from the reserve itself and Townsend Park led to the crackdown.
“Where they are all going? I have no idea at this point,” Goldstone said during a tour of the site after the evictions.
After they were off site, Goldstone said the plan was to take down the structures and leave the debris behind to be cleaned up in the spring when it’s less muddy. Goldstone said the First Nation plans to clear the debris out, take down the trees and use the land for agriculture.
While the bridge was dismantled by a City of Chilliwack excavator, several of those left without a place to live chatted with The Progress, although none wanted to be photographed or named for fear of family members finding out their situation.
(See below for more photos)
Those last remaining campers were upset at the timing but they remained co-operative. One said he totally understood the eviction of the campers off the site on the sensitive Chilliwack River for environmental reasons, but the notion that the Kwaw-kwaw-apilt land would be farmed seemed ridiculous.
The 41-year-old, B.I., claimed he had pulled out five full oil drums he found buried in the ground on the land from the time when the location was a scrapyard.
“It’s so contaminated you can’t grow on there,” he said.
He and the others left behind also said they were all painted with an unfair brush by the community, as criminals and drug users.
“Not all of us are drug addicted,” he said. “Not all of us are criminals.”
B.I. said the proportion of hardcore drug users and property offenders living on the street painted the entire homeless community with an unfair brush.
“Those heavy drug users have put a damper on so much,” he said, adding that he’s lost as many as 20 friends in recent years.
“This fentanyl shit is just killing people off.”
Another individual was upset at the short notice they received, and that they were unable to take out all their belongings.
“I build bikes with parts I find so people on the streets can have bikes,” he said. “I have lost everything I have. This is absolutely nonsense.”
Asked why they don’t go to a local shelter, one said there was no room at the Salvation Army. Another complained about having to abandon his possessions.
“They won’t let us in with all this stuff.”
See www.theprogress.com Wednesday for updates on this story, including a response on the timing from the Kwaw-kwaw-apilt First Nation.