Summer is when tents go up in Pitt Meadows

Bylaw officers on lookout for illegal homeless camps

As soon as the weather warms, Leslie Elchuk keeps an eye out for tents and tarps.

She’s quick to dismantle any homeless camp she spots and politely tells the occupants to move on or puts them in touch with outreach services.

“It’s something you have to keep on top of,” said Pitt Meadows bylaw officer.

“If you don’t, it can quickly get out of control.”

Last month, Elchuk and city staff took down three camps in the span of a week. Three might seem like a lot to many city residents but Elchuk says the number of homeless people living within Pitt Meadows boundaries has stayed steady for years, fluctuating between three and five in winter, and more when the weather warms.

In summer, most like to camp along the river, away from residential neighbourhoods.

“As soon as I hear of a camp or a tent I go right away,” said Elchuk, who is usually alerted to camps by residents who spot them while walking on dikes or trails.

Nearby Maple Ridge has a much bigger homeless problem, noted Elchuk, but also has resources to deal with it.

One hundred and two people were found in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows without a roof over their heads during the 2011 Greater Vancouver Homeless Count. That’s up from 90 in 2008.

Of the 102 – 40 were in emergency shelters, while one person was listed as having no fixed address.

The municipalities were the only place in Metro Vancouver where the number of street homeless also rose – to 61 from 40.

Elchuk is now familiar with the city’s homeless and knows several by name.

She’s linked them with services but says a few don’t want the help.

“They are just down and out,” says Elchuk.

“They are just in a bad place right now. I wish there was a solution.”

The city hopes to get a better idea of how big its homeless population is through a study that’s currently underway.

The study is taking stock of the kind of housing in the city.

Once complete, it will offer a detailed picture of how much affordable housing is available in Pitt Meadows and what needs to be built to meet growing needs.