Dwayne Martin is one of the original campers at Anita Place Tent City and he is preparing to dig his heels in for the winter if he has to.
Ten winters, he says, or until the campers are provided with proper housing. The 47-year-old, though, is doubtful he will see modular housing in his lifetime.
Martin has two tents set up along a gravel pathway, provided by B.C. Housing, in the tent city, one to live in and the other as storage or for people to crash in, for those who have been turned away from the nearby Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries.
Martin has already started to dig trenches, like other campers, directing water away from his living space. He points to a tarp around three metres long and about a metre high that he has erected from the ground up.
“This stops a lot of the wind that comes in at the bottom of my tent,” he explained.
“I am going to dig a trench right along this whole side and dig this tarp down so it stops the water going in,” Martin added.
The tough Newfoundlander says he is not afraid of the winter but worries about campers around him.
Across the gravel path is another tent that his friend Merle lives in. Merle weighs about 80 pounds and walks around with a cane. So, Martin says, he spends most of his time in the tent.
“That’s why he is right across from me so I can make sure he is OK,” said Martin.
On Oct. 24, the City of Maple Ridge decided to resume an injunction process to get rid of the camp due to concerns about the health, safety and fire risk to the residents.
At the time, Mayor Nicole Read said that they had no choice but to resume the injunction process saying that “the safety of people in the camp, the fire department, police, other first responders and the surrounding neighbourhood has deteriorated.”
Now the city is asking nearby businesses and residents to submit impact statements as the injunction process makes its way through the courts.
“The challenge with it though is it’s a legal process,” said Read when asked for an update.
“I can’t go into detail like who we are collecting statements from. There’s obviously impact statements that go to the court from people who are being impacted but I don’t know if we can speak to any numbers specifically,” she said.
But Environment Canada is calling for five centimetres of snow in the Fraser Valley by the end of this week.
The Salvation Army is already prepared to increase capacity by five for a major extreme weather response in Maple Ridge and it’s working with B.C. Housing on implementing a plan and exploring various options.
When the temperature goes below 0 C, it is up to Darrell Pilgrim, executive-director of the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, to call an extreme weather response.
Then, for each night of inclement weather, the shelter will be open for about 10 hours to help people with their health and their safety.
“We are looking to increase the capacity knowing that the capacity last year varied from 15 to 30 depending on the weather,” said Dominic Flanagan, with B.C. Housing. The agency is also searching for an appropriate space and location for a new shelter to operate well.
“I am optimistic that a space will become available and we will have more news and updates in the next couple of weeks,” said Flanagan.
Back at the camp, Ivan Drury with the group Alliance Against Displacement, says that campers are doing the best they can with what they have available to them. He is waiting to see better tarps promised to them by B.C. Housing.
“Tents are not allowed to be joined by a single tarp and they have to have three feet between them.
And for the most part we are able to do that. There’s a couple where the barrier to doing that is that we don’t have the proper tarps.
He says they are bettering the camp all the time and trying to make the conditions of being in the winter outside as bearable and survivable as possible.
“The truth is what the camp does is, it makes people’s struggles against that brutal weather visible. It puts it out in the open,” said Drury.
He worries that if the camp is broken up by a court injunction, then the residents will be forced to the woods by themselves.
“There’s no way the fire chief will go and find those individuals up in the woods,” he said referring to the weekly camp walk-through by the city, fire department and RCMP.
“So those people in the woods will have little generators and fire risky electrical connections to it. They’re going to have fires right outside their tents or in their tents. They are going to have lots of candles. They are going to have every kind of heating apparatus that a person would do in desperation to chase off the cold,” he said.
“The battle against cold and wet will be made far worse and the fire danger of those individual camps spread out throughout in hiding will be way worse than what it is in one place,” said Drury.
Ultimately, the group is hoping that the courts will see the safety, health and other supports that benefit the residents when they are able to gather and support one another.
“(They) stay connected with services, stay connected with each other, provide harm reduction services, access food, and access many of the safety and other safety measures that are made available here,” explained Katrina Pacey, executive director of the Pivot Legal Society.
“We are very hopeful the court will understand that and understand that displacing people into isolated homelessness is a violation of some of their most fundamental rights,” she said.
For now, Martin says it’s a madhouse at the camp trying to keep everything dry.
“We are not asking for free give outs. Just something affordable. Something we can live in and afford to live in,” he said.