Top Stories: Homeless numbers skyrocketed in 2016

Reflecting on the headlines: Homelessness exploded in Chilliwack in 2016.

Increases in homeless numbers were big topics of discussion this past year.

Increases in homeless numbers were big topics of discussion this past year.

Join us at The Chilliwack Progress as we take our readers on a thoughtful trip down memory lane. Our Top Stories will recap the most significant news events, milestones and emerging themes that have shaped Chilliwack in 2016. It was undeniably a notable year, from an unprecedented spike in homelessness, to major development news, to the community revealing its keen interest in crime and politics, and a most caring heart.

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Homelessness exploded in Chilliwack in 2016.

Discarded needles, feces, condoms, and garbage were suddenly everywhere.

No one is sure why Chilliwack is now a destination for the destitute.

Between 300 to 400 people are said to be living rough in Chilliwack, with more than a dozen homeless camps. The last homeless count pegged the number at less than 75, so the numbers have skyrocketed.

It been an ongoing crisis for years across the Lower Mainland, but only hit critical mass here more recently.

City council took decisive action in 2016 even though housing and homelessness are technically a provincial, or federal responsibility — not municipal.

City reps hammered out a homelessness action plan with an affordable housing strategy, in partnership with 43 groups and agencies. They embraced the Housing First model which focuses on low-barrier shelters, considered key to provincial funding eligibility. City officials ensured $700,000 was put aside in reserve for a future housing development of this type.

On the advice of its legal counsel, following other court decisions, Chilliwack council amended its Parks, Recreation and Culture bylaw as a mechanism to control how and when sleeping in parks can take place.

Forced to do something about the encampments first in the Princess lane parking lot, and then under the Yale Road overpass, city officials sought legal injunctions from the courts as their only recourse to dismantle the camps.

Community reaction to the increase in homelessness went one of two ways. Some rushed to deliver food and clothes with heartfelt compassion. Others demanded the street people and the problem be dealt with.

It is an affordable housing issue to have people on the streets, but also has to do with mental health, and unaddressed addictions.

Either way, it’s a complex issue that will only be resolved when all levels of government work in tandem to fix it. Until then, Chilliwack will be forced to contend with and clean up after the growing problem.