Outside one tent on the Cliff Avenue camp, a Star Wars figurine stood guard, deterring any possible intruders, while a few metres down shopping carts and bike parts lined the curb.
In a shady spot beneath the trees, someone was passed out in a tent, oblivious to Vancouver NDP MLA David Eby’s visit on a sweltering Wednesday afternoon.
Eby said it’s now been two months since the camp behind the Salvation Army Caring Place in Maple Ridge reached its present size and pointed out that other tent cities have been removed.
“Yet, here there seems to be total inaction.”
With the heat, angry bystanders, lack of water and sanitation, “I think from any perspective, there is a tragedy waiting to happen.
“We cannot leave this the way it is. The province has to step up and solve this problem.”
About 60 people remain at the camp, despite the city having hired four outreach workers to try to connect people with services.
And work goes on to try find people homes, Mayor Nicole Read said at the camp.
But it takes time to find landlords and rental units for people even though B.C. Housing is now offering about 50 rental supplements in Maple Ridge.
“Right now, it’s a matter of finding those spaces,” she said.
“We know there are levers the city can pull to get more housing stock in the city.”
B.C. Housing has said it would discuss a temporary shelter, as well as another supportive housing building similar to Alouette Heights, where people on mental health or drug treatment plans get support 24 hours a day.
“What we need is a temporary shelter. That’s something we need to work on.”
But Read said no possible locations have been identified. Zoning would have to be considered, as well as technical requirements by B.C. Housing.
Read said the camp is a “deep concern for the city,” and it’s a crisis for the neighbourhood.
“We need to work out a solution that connects these people on the street to continued care and housing.”
Without access to services, mental health, addiction or other counselling, people will just end up back on the street, she said.
Read was asked in April why the city allowed the camp to grow to its current size.
“The city didn’t allow the camp,” she said.
Homeless people banded together and said they wouldn’t move because they were tired of being pushed from place to place, she added.
The city then had to create a strategy to deal with that.
“We are doing our best with the resources we have.”
She said it was impossible to calculate how much the city was spending on the issue.
“We are spending money, no question.”
Money is going into all levels, from bylaws, fire inspections and police visits. The issue is also consuming senior staff and council time, she added.
Camp resident Tracy Scott said homeless people just need a place to go.
“We need somewhere safe.”
A common complaint is that homeless people don’t have a place to store their valuables, which makes them targets as they push grocery carts filled with their possessions. Providing at least a storage location would allow people to look for jobs or to move around easier without fear of losing their possessions.
Eby said later that the province needs to work with the community and local government to find a short-term site to relieve the pressure on residents and businesses, “and then transition people into permanent housing with wrap-around mental health and addiction services.”
The ongoing tension of having people camping across the street continues to wear on homeowners along Cliff Avenue.
There’s always been homeless people, but “It’s just got right out of hand,” said Pam Banks.
It’s not so much the full-time camp residents that bother the homeowners, but the people who show up at night in their cars.
“You just don’t feel safe. I’ve got three dogs I’m pretty much ready to stick on Prozac. We need to do something.”
She won’t allow her kids outside.
“The provincial and federal governments need to step up and start looking after and dealing with this issue. And we’re not just talking homeless, we’re talking about people that are near homeless,” she said.
Lisa Sullivan, who’s lived in the area for 15 years, said she wants people at the camp to get better. But some people on the camp don’t want to get well.
“They’re creating a very dangerous environment for these children to grow up in. They can’t sleep at night, they’re hearing screaming and yelling. We’re afraid for these kids. They’re scared to be outside.
“Our health is deteriorating we’ve been fighting this for so long. We need the higher levels of government to hear us. It’s got to change.”
Some of the homeowners along Cliff Avenue had their children write letters telling what they think of the camp.
“I am mad because I can’t ride my bike. The tent people are screaming and using bad words all the time. I want my street back. Please help.” – Kael, 8.
“I am six years old. The yelling scares me and I can’t sleep. I am scared to play in my front yard. Please help. It’s my summer too. Thank you.” – Jaelyn, 6.
“I live on Cliff Avenue. I can’t ride my bike and I can’t walk to my friends down the street to play. They make my life hard to have fun in my neighbourhood. I don’t like the yelling. Please stop this. Thank you.” – Kieran, 6.
Teenager Hailey Homen, 17, said she’s heard things that scar her for life. She said she seen needles in people’s arms, and hears death threats.
“The stress this camp puts on my family is unnecessary. It needs to go, months ago.”