Mayor Henry Braun said changes have been made to the city’s volunteer clean-up protocol after an issue between a city volunteer and homeless man.
Braun spoke to media on Wednesday after a man’s tent was damaged on the weekend and left with a note telling him to leave.
Cody O’Day, who was camping in Ravine Park, said that after interacting with a city volunteer, he returned to find his tent overturned, his food – which was bought with the last of his money – missing, and a note telling him he couldn’t camp there. A tent pole was broken, and his air mattress was popped, he said.
Mackenzie Skorepa, who said she previously lived outside with O’Day but has entered transition housing, said the note read “There’s no camping here, it’s time to move on. Thanks.”
Braun spoke to reporters about the incident, saying he was concerned.
He said the volunteer had been encouraged by neighbours around the park to talk to the man in the camp and ensure he was aware that camping was prohibited. Braun said the volunteer was “acting as a concerned citizen and local resident,” and told the man he needed to remove his camp. He went home and printed a sign saying there was no camping and left it at the campsite, and removed some of the tent’s camouflage, but says he did not damage the tent, said Braun.
“The actions of the volunteer were outside the city’s protocol and we do not support the way in which this situation unfolded.”
He said the city was sorry for any upset that was caused and is working with the Abbotsford Police Department and O’Day to arrive at some restitution.
O’Day said he has been staying at the Salvation Army since the incident. He said he ended up living outside after hitting financial difficulties. He had a job offer, but had to take care of Skorepa when she was ill. He added that he had another job until recently but had to quit because of his homelessness.
He said there is a problem with the perception of homelessness and people who end up on the streets.
“Everybody is trying to pass the buck, saying it’s not a municipal problem; it’s a federal problem, it’s a provincial problem. But really, it starts with the community and it starts with the people in the community itself.”
He said while there isn’t proof the volunteer flipped and damaged the tent, he wishes the city would own up to the incident.
After another meeting with city officials on Thursday, O’Day said he was pleased with how things were being handled.
Braun told The News that due to the previous high-profile nature of incidents involving the homeless in Abbotsford, he wanted to face the issue head-on.
He said the volunteer “seems like a caring, compassionate person and he was as shocked as everybody else was – but something happened.”
The city needs to update its training for volunteers and has added language to its volunteer clean-up safety guidelines instructing people not to approach encampments and to contact bylaw if they come across one, he said.
Braun added he has spoken with residents in neighbourhoods who are frustrated the city isn’t doing more to address homeless camps. He said it creates tension as the city has a responsibility to residents who feel “they can’t use the neighbourhoods that they live in.”
He said residents with a concern should call city hall and bylaw services and service providers will be involved in addressing the problem because “we do want to find housing for (homeless people), we don’t want to just kick them out and leave them in the cold.”
A resident who lives next to Ravine Park, who didn’t want to be identified, said she doesn’t go into the park after being cornered by two homeless men more than a year ago. She’s lived there for more than 20 years and said homelessness has always been an issue. Her neighbours are also concerned and keep track of incidents in the park. While they have occasionally called police and bike patrol often enters the park, she would like to see more done to ensure people’s safety so residents can feel safe to use the park.
Braun pointed out the city has made strides on addressing homelessness and will continue to do so, adding that the position of homeless co-ordinator will soon be filled. He said he supports the position on an interim basis to see if it can make a difference.
The city has about 2,000 volunteers and anadopt-a-park program, where individuals and groups can set up with the volunteer co-ordinator to clean an area. Volunteers can set their own schedule and there is no requirement for volunteers to report back on a schedule, though every volunteer is in contact with the co-ordinator at least once a year, if not more.