A director with the Fraser Valley Regional District is appealing for urgent help from the provincial government to deal with garbage and debris from homeless camps in the Chilliwack River Valley.
The topic has been raging on social media for days with concerns that high water could wash the litter and discarded items into the Chilliwack-Vedder River system.
“Community members have been expressing their anger at the inability for any level of government to get the ongoing situation dealt with,” Orion Engar, FVRD Area E director told The Progress. “I’m trying to find a way to get that stuff cleaned up.”
There still may be people in the camp, which is on Crown land, so officials have not removed the items.
But residents are fed up with the endless thieving, break-ins, and hard drug use associated with the camps.
The huge mess created by homeless squatters was discovered by local river stewards after crossing a stream to get to the little island, east of the Vedder bridge, near the mouth of Sweltzer Creek.
The area was littered with camping items, clothing, and garbage, according to photos and video taken by Chris Gadsden, one of the founders of the Chilliwack-Vedder Cleanup Society.
The main concern is heavy rain in the forecast.
“A high water event that will certainly come will be an environmental disaster,” Gadsden said, as much of the trash and debris will get washed downstream.
One of the last major encampment cleanups at Teskey Rock a couple of years ago by the province employed a helicopter to hoist all the garbage out of the area.
“Of course that cleanup cost the taxpayers a lot of money,” Gadsden said.
The 2017 cleanup was undertaken by Natural Resource Officers from the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD), accompanied by RCMP and Griffin Security
Water levels will be rising once the rains return by the weekend, and the campsite was one of many found near on the Chilliwack river in the past few weeks.
Crossing the creek to clear out the mess could also be a safety issue for some.
“What should be done is once these camps start to get set up, they should be stopped to prevent the pollution this causes to our precious river systems here in the valley and beyond,” Gadsden said.
Engar said he would like to see provincial officials “address gaps” in their response to rural homelessness and that was the essence of resolution B183, which was prepared for this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities Conference, but it didn’t make it to the floor, said Engar.
”We are kind of struggling with the fact that the NROs have referred it to BC Housing because there are folks living in that area, but they disappear during the day,” Engar said. “I’ve asked our MLA to get involved, he is talking to FLNRORD. I’m trying to phone BC Housing and got three different people who don’t know anything.”
The creek is knee-high in places and flowing fast.
“We are going to need some sturdy fishermen to cross the creek on that island in the mouth of the Sweltzer Creek area,” Engar said. “It just baffles me after all of my beating of the drum – at FLNRORD saying we need more boots on the ground they are not going to move these people along… I know these people have complex issues, and there is never a one-size-fits-all solution.”
It may be that provincial officials have decided to no longer implement a two week limit on Crown land squatting.
“The province is very slow to intervene when these camps get established,” Engar added. “The compassion is wearing pretty thin for people who are leaving junk around and degrading the environment.”