A protest camp for the homeless has remained in Jubilee Park since late October, but city officials say the growing encampment can’t stay on parkland indefinitely.
“The city has been looking at all its options… it’s not been ignoring it, it’s been extremely tolerant – to a fault some would say. I think we are at a stage now that it is going to have to end,” said Jake Rudolph, deputy city manager.
The camp began as a three-day protest by members of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors to raise awareness about the city’s most marginalized residents. But the local chapter’s founder, Barry Shantz, announced days later that the camp would remain until the city sanctioned a designated camp for homeless people, similar to Portland’s Dignity Village.
While Rudolph said the city has received “surprisingly few” complaints about the site in the past month, he said that the camp cannot continue on public parkland forever.
He added that the city has been treating the site as “an occupation and as a protest, not so much as a homeless camp.”
Rudolph said the right to express one’s views has been demonstrated through the courts in the past and must be respected.
“This group has had a month or so of opportunity to do that. Having said that, it can’t continue forever. There is an expectation I think from the silent majority of people in the community that feel enough is enough. There will come a time when this is no longer acceptable.”
Rudolph said a potential resolution will not be confrontational, and stakeholders will seek a solution to the issue.
But Shantz said the group has no plans to move in the near future, saying he expects people could be there “until February or March.
“The only way to get us out of here is a court-ordered injunction.”
He said gathering homeless people in the park allows a safe space for people to congregate, and makes a point about the necessity of an established camp in Abbotsford. Shantz said the group has been provided with porta-potties by a local businessman and city staff gave the group garbage bags to collect waste.
Rudolph said police have been visiting the site as part of patrols, though the area has not been targeted. He added that since last week, fire services and bylaw officers visited the site daily in order to ensure safety.
Rudolph said homelessness has been an issue that has been in Abbotsford for many years, and currently there are lot of people “stepping up with ideas.
“What we can do is take a step back and take a reasonable approach to solve problems in the best interest of the municipality, and there will be differences of opinion on that.”
The BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors are asking for public assistance to help its members through the cold weather, including donations of warm clothes or food that can be dropped off in Jubilee Park.