Chris Bossley may not have seen the rats, but she heard them, the constant noise of little paws scurrying around in a frenzy, outside her tent, at night.
There was the squeaking, too, constantly, as the little creatures argued and schemed amongst themselves.
But she had done things properly. She had accepted a previously set up tent at the Anita Place Tent City in downtown Maple Ridge, one that sat on a platform and had reinforced walls.
Those stronger walls kept the vermin from chewing through the tent fabric.
The measures were just one of the tips Bossley picked up after spending Easter weekend in the camp and living, if only briefly, as a homeless person.
“It’s not a joke. It’s really happening and people are living in those conditions,” she said after returning home.
“For the three nights, I was there. I didn’t have a rat come in and disturb me.”
Bossley usually spends hours volunteering at the camp, but decided she should live there, if only briefly, to see what it’s really like.
She prepared by having a good meal before she left her Maple Ridge home on the day before Easter Friday, not exactly sure where she’d eat while in the camp.
She filled her backpack with necessities, and $20 cash, and bought a head lamp so she could see in the dark, then made the short trip to tent city, as she’s done dozens of times before, but without the relief of leaving the camp at the end of the day.
“To be perfectly honest, I was nervous. I was apprehensive. I was kind of prepared for anything at that point. When am I going to eat again?”
But she knew most of the camp residents and how it functioned. Organizers had also given her a tent that had been up for awhile.
Bossley wanted to stay at the camp to get a more rounded perspective of homelessness.
“I just thought in order to have a better understanding of what the folks go through, I really needed to spend a few days down there,” she said.
What she learned, more than anything, is the ease with which people can fall into poverty, and the challenge of getting out.
All it takes is one false move, one mistake – a drug habit or family breakup, or economic loss, and the cycle of homelessness can begin.
Being without a home means being without a place to cook your own food, which leads to a reliance on prepared meals or gas station snacks.
“It’s not the healthiest of diets. They’re kind of eating whatever is available and whatever they can get.”
Sometimes that involves meandering up to the nearby Chevron for snacks and a hot coffee, all of which require money, not always available to people without homes.
For dinner, there is a food truck that stops every Friday in the downtown. That parked a few blocks away and people just seemed to appear out of now where to get a sandwich or two.
Saturday night there’s a meal at Golden Ears United Church.
And there was always the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, with its lunch or dinner meal programs.
The never-ending winter made living there difficult.
“I really got cold.”
Bossley says the reasons for ending up at the camp are varied. Some may be escaping violence at home. Or there could be mental health problems or addiction problems, anything that can result in people leaving their usual home.
“In certain cases … their families are applying this tough-love way of being.”
But she understands how difficult it is for families to cope with someone with mental health or substance use issues.
Either way, “When someone goes out on the street like that, they’re preyed upon.”
During her stay, she knew that people were using drugs in their tents, but it wasn’t overt.
After her tent city Easter weekend, Bossley learned there’s a whole side of Maple Ridge she didn’t know about. She said it’s impossible to get a job without a permanent address. And people can’t get housing unless they go into detox, which itself is difficult to access.
That’s why they all need places to live so they can be stabilized and assessed, said Bossley.
“If sobriety was a condition for housing, half of us would be on the street,” she added.
“I don’t understand the mentality of those who attack people when they’re down.”