There are senior citizens who have been suffering through Maple Ridge’s coldest week of the year – with its sub-zero temperatures ending in a dump of 20 centimetres of snow Friday – in tents at Anita Place.
They say it’s not drugs that has put them there, but bad luck, or their own mistakes.
Linda Edwards is 65 years old and has spent most of her life in Maple Ridge. She has been at Anita Place Tent City for about two weeks.
She said her son has mental health issues, and he was given a 30-day suspension from the Salvation Army shelter, where they were staying. He was accused of throwing her aluminum cane, but she said he never tried to hit anyone with it.
“Now he’s got no place to go, and I’m not going to leave my son by himself,” she said.
Salvation Army executive director Darrell Pilgrim would not comment on any specific case, but said, by policy, the shelter has zero tolerance for violence.
The mother and her adult son stayed in the warming tent – a large, rectangular clear plastic tent in the centre of Anita Place – for two days. Then they were given a small tent of their own, as well as blankets, an air mattress and a gas heater. The heater can make the tent sweltering hot, but it doesn’t last.
“For a little while we get cold, then we get hot, then we get cold …”
She was evicted from her home two years ago and said she has been black-listed as a tenant online.
“The last two years is the first time I’ve ever been homeless in my life,” she said. “I stayed at the Caring Place for two years.”
Linda said she has a degenerative disk disease, and walks with a cane. Getting up off an air mattress is an ordeal for her. She also has asthma, and only one eye.
She sees other seniors or elderly people moving through the camp.
“It’s not all people on drugs. There’s probably some who started doing it because they are in this place,” she said. “There’s nothing else they can do here.”
Dave Cudmore, 64, is from Prince Edward Island. He came to B.C. a little more than two years ago, and has been in Anita Place for five or six months. He helps keep the place organized. Every hour, and sometimes every minute, there is something to do, he said, whether it is shoveling snow or cleaning a washroom.
Cudmore said his short-term memory is limited, and he can no longer drive or do other basic tasks. He retired as a chef.
There are times, he says, when being elderly and ending up living in a tent in a homeless camp makes him feel that life has has not been kind to him.
“If you have a cold tent, it is a tough fate,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure your immune system is up.”
The temperatures have stayed near or below zero for the past week.
“B.C. has a different cold here. It’s a wet cold. If you’re not moving, you get damp to the bone, and that’s a bad, bad cold,” he said. “We do checks here all the time. If we don’t see people [in the warming tent], we go looking for them. We take care of our own people in here.”
Cudmore said he is in no danger.
“I think most of the people – anybody who is in community or supportive housing – knows what elderlies we’ve got here,” he said. “If they feel anybody is in danger, I say ‘step up to the plate and get them out of here.’”
Jag, who did not want to give his full name, is 72 years old and spends days working, doing camp chores, mostly in the warming tent. At night, the Hope for Freedom Society comes and picks him up, and takes him to a church, where they have a mat program.
He is originally from India and has lived in Maple Ridge for 10 years. He doesn’t take drugs or smoke, but suffered from depression and a family break-up.
He speaks about how people should treat seniors with respect, regardless of how they might behave.
Chris Bossley, a camp volunteer, said people often deride Anita Place residents, as if they are choosing a lifestyle of drug use on the streets.
All of the seniors say they don’t do drugs.
“They tend to kind of put them all under the same umbrella,” Bossley said, but noted on Saturday there were at least three people over 60 years old in the camp, and one over 70.
“These people have enough problems without having no place to live, and being forced to live in a tent in the middle of winter.”
There was another 62-year-old who had a spotless camp site, who said he had been in camp for about a month, and was having difficulty finding housing.
Cudmore said he and other camp residents are waiting for the modular housing units that B.C. Housing has announced, and they have no other options.
B.C. Housing did not respond to questions about a possible location for modular housing or a timeline for when one might be selected.
“We supposedly have places coming,” he said. “Time will tell. I believe they are coming. It might be a while.
“Until I find one, we’ll be here.”