One member of a homeless camp near the Evans Roundabout in Chilliwack in October packs his things out. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Top Stories 2017: Longstanding homeless camps dismantled

People evicted and sites cleaned up adjacent to Chilliwack waterways

While much attention was paid in 2016 to a very public homeless camp in the heart of downtown Chilliwack, in 2017 the attention turned to encampments in the far-flung corners of the city.

For those living rough this year, it would seem they just can’t get a break.

“We tried to stay off the grid so we weren’t an eyesore,” a homeless man told The Progress as he and others were being evicted from the camp in the woods on private property near the Evans Roundabout in October.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack homeless camp given eviction notice (with video)

Chilliwack not only has not been spared from the provincewide — indeed nationwide — crisis of homelessness, the problem hit the city hard. In March, it was reported the latest count of those on the streets who self-identify as homeless reached 221 up from just 73 at the last count in 2014.

And the mayor said city hall was aware of 18 homeless camps in and around the city, a number that certainly fluctuates.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack homeless camp dismantled on Monday

The most notorious in 2017 became the one at the Evans Roundabout and one on the Chilliwack River just up from the Vedder Bridge. One also emerged on Island 22, and a longstanding one on the Kwaw-kwaw-apilt reserve behind Townsend Park began to garner more attention.

Three out of those four camps were dismantled in 2017, the individuals evicted and sites cleaned up. And while the people in those camps may not have wanted to leave, the dismantling was far too long in the coming for many residents. At least part of the delay, at least on the part of natural resource officers from the provincial government, was reportedly because of the wildfires in B.C.’s interior.

Staying off the radar and out of the public eye may seem like a good plan for someone living rough, but in the case of these camps, private property and environmental protection triggered a response.

In October, residents of the camp at 45305 Yale Rd. were handed a “notice of trespass” after years of living on the site many thought was Crown land. It is, however, land owned by The Order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

The city received complaints about the camp for years, with several raids taking place at the site recovering stolen property. The winter before, a 51-year-old woman died in the camp when the tent she was in collapsed under snow.

Then there were the camps on the banks of the Chilliwack River near the Vedder Bridge and the Fraser River near Island 22.

The one in the Chilliwack River Valley became notorious as a destination for stolen goods, according to witnesses who live and fish nearby. In addition to the allegations of property crime and drug use tied to the camp, the site was subject to a special order for environmental sensitivity forbidding camping of any kind.

Finally in late November, the campers were given an order to be out and on Dec. 5 and 6, the cleanup took place. In the end, more than 1,000 syringes were removed from the site and a helicopter was brought in to fly out 21,540 pounds of garbage.

• READ MORE: More than 20,000 pounds of garbage removed from riverside homeless camps

A couple of days later, natural resource officers with help from security and RCMP also removed a camp on the Fraser River near Island 22.

There were also reports in December that the longstanding camp on reserve land behind Townsend Park was to be dismantled, but that now won’t happen until the new year.

As to where all these people went, some report camps were simply set up further into the bush in the Chilliwack River Valley. Some apparently indeed got help and housing, but these are among the hardest to house.

“In a perfect world, we would have housing for everyone, but the reality is there are some who will never come inside and get the help they need,” Mayor Sharon Gaetz said in March.

• READ MORE: More than 17,000 pounds of garbage removed from Chilliwack River homeless camp

“It’s either too comfortable to not seek services or it’s that some of these people truly don’t know they exist.” Coun. Sam Waddington said in October.

There is a bit of a communal cognitive dissonance when it comes to the homeless, as some society wrestles with the problems of mental illness and addiction and a lack of housing, while some see simply property crime, illegal drug use, discarded syringes and environmental mess.

For Vancouver homeless advocate Judy Graves the issue is not mental health or addiction, many middle class housed people suffer from those afflictions.

“Homelessness is about the availability of housing,” Graves said in an interview a year ago, adding that nothing is unique locally.

“It’s not a Chilliwack problem, it’s a Canadian problem.”


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

One member of a homeless camp near the Evans Roundabout in Chilliwack in October rides a bike out with belongings. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

The homeless camp in the banks of the Chilliwack River near the Vedder Bridge. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

The homeless camp in the banks of the Chilliwack River near the Vedder Bridge. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Just Posted

Imagination Library Fraser Valley celebrating Christmas in July

Dolly Parton early literacy intiative looking for financial support to help with waitlist

Online submissions now open for virtual Chilliwack Fair

No fee this year to submit entries for food, arts and more in 148th annual Chilliwack Fair

Handgun pointing complaint draws strong RCMP presence at Chilliwack residence Wednesday night

One in custody after brief standoff involving Emergency Response Team and canine unit

Iconic Chilliwack store passes clothing racks on to downtown neighbours

Chilliwack Mission Thriftstore given racks and fixtures as downtown store closes for good

Exercise and cancer to be explored via webinar

UFV’s Dr. Iris Lesser to lead Zoom event for cancer patients and supporters

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Police nab three impaired drivers in one night in Maple Ridge

Ridge Meadows RCMP served 80 impaired driving infractions in June

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

Lower Mainland YouTubers claim to be Kelowna display toilet ‘poopers’

RCMP can not speak to legitimacy of video, will be investigating

Haida matriarchs occupy ancient villages as fishing lodges reopen to visitors

‘Daughters of the rivers’ say occupation follows two fishing lodges reopening without Haida consent

Most Read