An elaborate effort to remove an entrenched homeless camp on the Chilliwack River last weekend saw 7.79 metric tonnes (17,138 pounds) of garbage and hundreds of syringes removed from the area.
The operation was led by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, who were accompanied by BC Conservation Officers, RCMP, Chilliwack Search and Rescue, Griffin Security and Soowahlie Indian Band representatives.
Valley Tanks and Containers and Valley Helicopters were involved, and one neighbour from Riverstone Heights counted 25 helicopter loads taken out of the camp.
He and other neighbours from Promontory say the area just upriver from the Vedder Bridge has been bustling with activity for months as people were seen coming and going with bicycles and household items.
When asked why the crackdown now, a government spokesperson said public safety is always the priority.
“The unauthorized camp was located on an island in the Chilliwack River where flooding and rising water were of major concern especially with the snowpack melting and spring freshet coming,” the spokesperson said.
But despite the crackdown, nearby resident Aaron Bedard said many of the squatters simply moved to a new spot. He attended during the clean up, guessed the campers would do so, went looking and found tents not far away.
“And 50 feet from the site was garbage bags full of tools and loot and a generator, car batteries, propane tanks,” Bedard told the Progress. “All the kind of thing you’d find on a porch or shed or garage.”
The spokesperson said the ministry is aware of one individual in particular whose items were not removed from the area, and he was being given extra time to move as he was unaware he was to be evicted.
“The ministry will be following up with him this week.”
Bedard said he saw the camp set up back in November from his perch overlooking the Chilliwack River Valley on the back side of Promontory. He said he made the mistake of thinking the tents and tarps were tidy and responsibly set up.
Residents in that area have noticed for weeks and months at the activity at night as flashlights and even generators are operated on the Crown land.
Given the large amounts of tools, equipment and other items incongruous with homeless living, Bedard is unsympathetic to the claims these are indigent folks desperate for a place to live.
“Some people want to pay their rent on drugs so they choose to live outside,” the Canadian military war veteran said. “I don’t feel bad for them. I [saw] poverty in Afghanistan. These people are pathetic.”
The ministry spokesperson said in addition to public safety, the removal of the campers and the garbage is because the area is closed to camping between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. under section 58 of the Forest and Range Practices Act, and there was concern the excessive amount of garbage and debris being dumped on Crown land could enter the Chilliwack River.
He added that the removal went well, and the unauthorized campers were co-operative.