Maple Ridge fire chief discussed cleanup with residents along with Alliance Against Displacement and Pivot Legal Society representatives, Wednesday. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

Maple Ridge fire chief discussed cleanup with residents along with Alliance Against Displacement and Pivot Legal Society representatives, Wednesday. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

Cooperative cleanup of camp collapses

Maple Ridge city crews not allowed in tent city

The Timbits and double-doubles didn’t do it Wednesday as Anita Place Tent City residents and city staff discussed over coffee how to clean up the camp and make it safer.

Maple Ridge fire chief Howard Exner said earlier he wanted to work with camp residents to improve safety and wasn’t intent on dismantling the camp.

But a walk-through with firefighters, parks staff and residents to try to identify and remedy safety hazards ended part-way through when an agreement couldn’t be reached on how to replace the wooden pallets with plastic ones.

“We’re trying to comply,” said camp spokesperson Sandi Orr. “We’re trying to take responsibility for ourselves. They’re just passing the buck. They’re just saying that it’s wrong.”

She added that residents were trying to compromise on safety issues, but weren’t able to negotiate, adding they’re not being told what is required to improve safety.

“If we take something out, we need to replace it with something else.”

City crews also weren’t allowed in the camp because residents feared they would dismantle the camp or remove possessions, she added.

City bylaw staff removed tents from the camp in May 2017.

But fire officials are concerned about tarps, wood, upholstered furniture, propane cylinders, electrical cords and, particularly, wooden pallets in the camp. The pallets are used to raise tent platforms off the ground, to stay dry, but also create a fire hazard because they create an airspace for a fire to start.

Exner said his goal was to help campers meet fire safety standards set out in the court order from last November.

But the walkthrough bogged down over the details.

“They want to re-negotiate on everything,” Exner said.

Eventually, the exercise wasn’t productive so he ended the walkthrough, although he’ll try again next week.

“In a half an hour, we made it about 100 feet into the camp. It was becoming time that wasn’t being well spent.”

And while fire officials can point out safety violations, they can’t prescribe exactly how to remedy those.

Exner pointed out that extension cords can’t be plugged into each other, nor can they be buried or woven through metal fences.

“I feel like, today, the campers have been interested in cooperating,” said Listen Chen, with Alliance Against Displacement.

She said there was a discrepancy between the fire chief’s attempt at a cooperative approach to cleaning up the camp and more confrontational tone in a letter from the city’s lawyer to Pivot Legal Society, which represents the camp, about the cleanup.

Exner disputes that, though.

While two city workers stood outside the camp, residents themselves hauled out old furniture, wood pallets and other bits and pieces.

Chen and Orr both said the tent city will remain even when the 55 modular homes open this fall on Royal Crescent. Despite that new option, residents at tent city are expecting to be there for a second winter, said Chen.

“There’s absolutely not enough modular housing to house all the homeless in Maple Ridge.”

 

Fire safety rules are posted outside camp. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

Fire safety rules are posted outside camp. (Phil Melnychuk/THE NEWS)

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