Ivan Drury and Listen Chen, with the Alliance Against Displacement, are working on an electrical grid for Anita Place Tent City. (Phil Menychuk/THE NEWS)

Maple Ridge camp trying to find another way to stay warm

Working on electrical grid for oil heaters

Winter won’t go away, so tent city organizers are digging in to better survive the cold spell.

Listen Chen, with the Alliance Against Displacement, said that an electrical grid that could power part of Anita Place Tent City is now under construction as a pilot project.

The intent is to build a safe power network so that, eventually, each site will have access to an electrical outlet, allowing residents to use electrically powered oil heaters to warm in their tents with minimal fire risk.

Chen said the work doesn’t contravene Friday’s Supreme Court order, which allows the city to remove unsafe electrical connections. She argues that power cords are not mentioned in the orders.

“We believe there’s a case to be made, if we’re able to set it up in a safe way, as much to code as possible, we could argue that it falls outside of the order because it’s of a different nature than the kind of ad hoc, tent-to-tent propane heat that people provide, because the fire department did approve oil heaters, they just didn’t approve any source of electricity to power them.

“So our plan is to use oil heaters, with a safely set up electrical grid, and that way people don’t have to turn to propane at all, whether or not the city is confiscating them every night or every week.”

An agreement reached in court in 2017 called for the residents to be provided with heaters that were to be approved by the Maple Ridge Fire Department, with that approval “not to be unreasonably withheld.”

However, the fire department maintains that there are no heaters, or none have been suggested that can be used safely inside tents.

Chen added that some residents of the camp have electrical experience, though the work is not being done by an electrician. The camp has some money from an online fundraiser to help with the pilot program.

“We don’t see any choice. In the camp’s mind, it’s not an option to just freeze every night and have no source of heat.”

Meanwhile, B.C. Housing continues to check on people daily and encourage the residents of Anita Place to move inside and access the existing shelter program.

Daily meals, bottled water, extra blankets and sleeping bags, as well as other cold weather items are also provided by B.C. Housing, said spokesperson Rajvir Rao.

She noted that extreme weather response shelters are open and likely will be so all week, given the weather forecast.

“Shelters in the area have capacity. Local service providers, RCMP and community can check on shelter locations and openings on BC Housing’s shelter map,” Rao said.

An extreme weather response has been in place in Maple Ridge since Feb. 3, because of the cold weather, Darrell Pilgrim, executive-director with the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries said earlier.

That’s usually triggered when the wind chill temperature dips to -2 C.

Early Monday in Pitt Meadows, the temperature dropped to -10 C without the wind chill factored in.

The alert triggered the opening of 25 extreme weather mats at the location of the former temporary emergency shelter in the former mattress shop on Lougheed Highway. That had been drawing about 10 people a night, in addition to the 60 beds at the Salvation Army across the street.

The opening of the emergency shelter allows the Salvation Army to refer people there so they don’t have to spend the night outside.

People can also participate in the mat program run by the Hope for Freedom Society, as part of which volunteers put homeless people up in churches for the night.

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