Maple Ridge bylaw enforcement officers and RCMP members descended on a homeless camp in downtown Maple Ridge on Thursday, packing up tents and other possessions and throwing them into the back of trucks.
But Ivan Drury of Alliance Against Displacement, which organized the camp, jumped onto the back of a flat bed truck and threw the tents back onto the ground, berating the RCMP for their role in trying to dismantle the camp at 223rd Street and St. Anne Avenue, beside the Haney bypass.
“You come here when she’s not here and you throw her stuff in the garbage? That’s not keeping any [expletive] peace,” he yelled.
People living at the camp picked up the tents and tarps that Drury retrieved, and dragged them back into the camp.
That morning, acting mayor Tyler Shymkiw said it is not a true homeless camp.
“This politically designed camp by people from outside our community was set up for the media. It’s not a response to the true need of the local population,” Shymkiw said by email.
“It’s unfair to the hardworking people of Maple Ridge and our local businesses who suffer because of this. Our city has worked very hard to deliver the beds and services those in need require in a safe, responsible manner. This travelling circus is dangerous to those both inside and near it – we’re going to move heaven and earth to shut it down before anyone gets hurt.”
The city bylaws office twice issued notices to camp residents that they were trespassing, the second on Wednesday.
“These lands are closed for public use, and the entry, use and occupation of these lands is prohibited and in contravention of city bylaws and the Trespass Act, and constitutes a trespass.
“You are hereby directed to leave and vacate the lands and including the removal of all structures, possession sand other materials immediately,” it said.
Steve Bodnar, also at the camp, said it had 32 people, and that some had come from the temporary shelter, while others had been camping in parks or near the Fraser River.
“There are local people who live here – some born and raised here. I’ve been here since ’92,” he added.
“Everyone wants to get something going with housing,” Bodnar added, explaining there is both a lack of a affordable housing and a landlord prejudice against allowing people on social assistance.
He said the Liberal MLAs had scheduled a meeting with the group, but it was cancelled until after Tuesday’s election.
“That was kind of a kick in the chops,” he said. “We would like somebody to talk to, and honest efforts.
“What do we do?”
Robin MacNair, bylaws manager, said the city is just enforcing its rules. She said the city plans to turn the area into a park, and work needs to be done on site.
“We’ve had many, many, many complaints from neighbours,” she added. “They’re afraid, that’s the biggest one. They say, ‘I don’t want to let my wife and kids go out for a walk, or take the dog for a walk.’ Whether that’s real or not, I don’t know, but that’s what they say.”
The city has been clearing the area for two years, MacNair said.
“We’ve asked and asked – at some point we need to get access, because the neighbourhood wants this to be a nice park,” she said. “So unfortunately, we have the dirty work.”
Beau Sears lives in a house across the camp, and had no complaints.
“These guys have been respectful. They’ve been doing their best to keep everything clean, keeping up on the traffic, they’ve been nothing but polite,” she said. “What’s going on is not right. This is a Canadian problem and we all should be ashamed of it.”
Where will the campers go, she wondered.
“We know what the problem is: it’s housing, and they [the city] need to address that, and quit being so bloody picky about where it goes. This is something that needs to be dealt with now, not in five years, because some of them will be dead.”
Bodnar said the new MLAs elected in Maple Ridge need to make housing the homeless a priority.
“We need to put them to the test. You’re talking the talk, now let’s see you walk it.”
Shymkiw said the city will pursue all legal mechanisms to remove the camp, and that work is already underway on an injunction.