The Abbotsford Police Department (APD) has confirmed it issued its first trespassing tickets to campers after years of homeless encampments on a portion of Gladys Avenue.
A short stretch of Gladys Avenue, outside the Salvation Army, has been home to campers for years, with a contentious history with the city that peaked in the summer of 2013 when city workers sprayed chicken manure on the camp.
While the camp has largely continued since that incident, recent action by BC Hydro – which owns the land – with some support from the APD has left the land mostly vacant for over a month.
Police spokesperson Sgt. Judy Bird confirmed in an email earlier this month that three tickets were handed out on July 26 for camping in a no-trespass area, though one ticket was rescinded after an occupant decided to pack up and leave.
“APD can, however, assist in enforcing municipal, provincial and federal statutes. In this case, we would assist in enforcing trespassing on BC Hydro property and will instruct people to leave,” Bird said in the email.
Bird said the three tickets were the first tickets ever handed out at that space for trespassing.
Another APD spokesperson, Const. Jody Thomas, said tickets are one tool to gain compliance, adding that, often, people who can’t pay tickets will still comply after receiving a ticket, because they don’t want to constantly be running into enforcement officials.
Since that time, the homeless camp has been mostly vacant, with only the odd tent or shopping cart appearing on the property.
Grace Unruh, who has been homeless since January but did not live at the Gladys camp, appeared torn about the evictions. The clearing of the area came just a day after an occupant was struck and killed by a commercial vehicle on Gladys Avenue near the camp.
“It’s probably a good idea, right? Because it’s not safe to have people hanging on the side of the road. It’s a pretty busy road. People go racing through there. I’m surprised something didn’t happen maybe sooner,” Unruh said.
“Puts your life in your hands when you cross the street. … It makes me really angry. It makes me worried about my friends, right?” she added, also noting the train tracks at the space.
Indeed, a BC Hydro spokesperson also cited a “significant concern for the safety of those camping on the property” as a reason for the action.
“Given the close proximity to an active railway line, as well as certain activities, such as having open flame near wooden 69-kilovolt transmission poles – this is why we continue to work with the campers and Abbotsford community leaders to address unsafe activity,” said Tanya Fish, adding the plan to remove campers has been working since 2016, including the implementation of no-trespass signs.
On the other hand, Unruh said the constant displacement is exhausting for people who are experiencing homelessness.
“I haven’t been affected by that entirely, but I’ve seen what it’s done to my friends, and it’s daily. Daily, daily, daily they’ve got to pack up, got to move, got to clean it up, got to go. From here to there, from there to here. Can’t be here, can’t be there,” she said, questioning where one can go when they have nowhere else beyond their campsite.
“One fellow lost his heart medication and his money and stuff just thrown out,” Unruh said. “A lot of them miss lunch and that because they can’t go, because they don’t want to lose their stuff.”
Still, with the city taking on a more collaborative and proactive approach with local homeless, Unruh said she’s optimistic that the issue will see some relief in the months and years to come.
“I think there’s going to be some good things happening, for sure. There was a meeting I had heard that happened that people were really pleased with, and there’s going to be … some work towards finding a solution, for sure.”