UPDATE: Camp cleanup ordered after arrest

Abbotsford Police investigators were in the parking lot of the Abbotsford Food Bank last Wednesday after officers fired non-lethal rounds at a man allegedly waving a knife.  - Vikki Hopes
Abbotsford Police investigators were in the parking lot of the Abbotsford Food Bank last Wednesday after officers fired non-lethal rounds at a man allegedly waving a knife.
— image credit: Vikki Hopes

Alex BUTLER and Vikki HOPES

The removal of the camp of a homeless man who was shot with non-lethal rounds during a police incident in downtown Abbotsford last week has a local advocate voicing concerns.

Last Wednesday, Abbotsford Police were called to the Abbotsford Food Bank on Essendene Avenue at about 2:15 p.m. after receiving a report of a distraught man waving a knife.

The man refused to comply with officers’ commands, Abbotsford Police spokesman Const. Ian MacDonald said at the time.

Police subdued the man using guns that fire beanbags and rubber bullets. He was taken to hospital for treatment, but was not seriously injured.

Colin Roy Roberts, 57, who goes by his middle name, has been charged with possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose, according to the provincial court database.

He was taken into custody and was slated to appear in Abbotsford provincial court Tuesday for a bail hearing.

In the days following, Ward Draper, an advocate for the homeless with 5 and 2 Ministries, was critical of how the city dealt with Roberts.

The homeless man occupied an area close to Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) on Montvue Avenue for several months.

Draper said that following last Wednesday’s incident, various agencies including police, 5 and 2, ACS, the Salvation Army and a city councillor, began an email chain to determine what should happen with Roberts and his belongings while he was in hospital.

Draper said while plans were being worked out, a contractor with no knowledge of the homeless community was hired by someone with the City of Abbotsford to clear out Roberts’ belongings. Draper said they threw out most of the items “except for a pile of scrap metal.”

Jake Rudolph, deputy city manager, said that discussions between city staff and service providers about how to address Roberts’ camp had been occurring long before the police incident, in response to numerous complaints from the local business community.

After the man was taken into custody, the camp was left empty.

Rudolph said they received reports that another individual had already begun to remove materials from the site.

He said a public works employee went there on Saturday with a contractor and gave instructions to throw out some of the garbage piled on the street, and to remove the rest of the items and take them to the city’s public works yard until they could be dealt with.

Rudolph said after the public works employee left, the contractors took more to the transfer station than what had been intended.

Draper said the camp cleanup was undertaken despite last month’s formation of a task force to address concerns relating to the city’s homeless residents.

“We feel again that the city did not take the right course of action by neglecting ... to contact the necessary services, including the Salvation Army and such.”

Rudolph said the city made an effort to save Roberts’ things and what remains is in the public works yard.

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