City of Abbotsford to clear Gladys Avenue homeless camp

Legal advocates disagree on interpretation of court ruling

The city has said it will proceed with the closure of the homeless protest camp on Gladys Avenue.

The city has said it will proceed with the closure of the homeless protest camp on Gladys Avenue.

The City of Abbotsford will close down the homeless protest camp on Gladys Avenue.

“We intend to proceed to closure of the Gladys camp,” said Jake Rudolph, deputy city manager. “It’s coming. ”

He made the comments at a recent local meeting of the BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS), an activist group advocating for the homeless.

In December, Mayor Henry Braun said the camp would be dismantled sometime around mid-January, once the temporary winter homeless shelter on Riverside Road was opened and the city revised its parks bylaw to comply with the October B.C. Supreme Court ruling giving homeless people the right to sleep in some public places outdoors.

The shelter opened on Dec. 21, and the parks bylaw is currently being revised.

The court ruling said homeless people have a right to sleep overnight in public spaces if there isn’t anywhere else for them to go, and they can temporarily erect shelters or tents, but they must take them down in the morning so they don’t get in the way of others.

The city considers the Gladys camp to be outside the court ruling because it’s on a city road right-of-way, not a park.

But the lawyer who represented the homeless in court disagrees.

“Other public places were also included … not only parks,” said DJ Larkin of Pivot Legal Society. “The city is taking a very limited view of what the ruling means.”

The court case began after a group of increasingly politicized homeless activists were ousted from Jubilee Park in 2013 – a move that subsequently spawned the protest camp at Gladys.

The camp has shrunk in footprint since December, but a core group of about 10 residents remain. The Riverside shelter, which has been at, or close to, its capacity of 40 people since New Year’s Eve, wouldn’t be able to take them all.

According to local outreach leaders, the DWS and camp residents interviewed by The News, the Gladys occupants don’t want to go to Riverside, and they distrust shelters in general for a variety of reasons, including privacy and keeping belongings secure.

Rudolph said, “There are parks where the judge has ruled people can stay overnight,” he said. “We’re trying to find solutions.”

If the city’s interpretation of the court ruling falls too far shy of where Larkin and her clients think it should be, she said there’s a possibility of going back to court.

“It’s up to the city now,” said Larkin.