City spends $40,000 for cleaning up homeless camps

City has been contracting out service since last June for safety reasons

Homeless camps in the city required clean-up services costing tens of thousands of dollars since last June.

Homeless camps in the city required clean-up services costing tens of thousands of dollars since last June.

The city paid about $40,000 for ongoing clean-up at homeless camps between last June and the end of 2014, according to figures obtained by The News through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Deputy city manager Jake Rudolph cited safety reasons for contracting a private company, Recycle-It, because drug paraphernalia and needles have been found at the sites.

“We’re concerned about the materials they would encounter and from a safety point of view, we felt it would be better if non-municipal crews were removing things.”

Surrey-based Recycle-It has been cleaning up waste, including garbage, mattresses and needles, from the homeless camps along the road since the summer of 2014.

In early January, The News requested all costs related to the clean-up of the homeless protest camp on Gladys Avenue in 2014, and received copies of invoices to the city totalling $40,858 between June 5 and Dec. 29, 2014 – mostly related to camps on Gladys and nearby streets, such as West Railway.

After a homeless protest camp set up in Jubilee Park in October 2013 was removed following a court injunction in December 2013, some residents of that camp moved to a site on Gladys Avenue at the Cyril Street junction, where the campers remain.

Other camps along Gladys Avenue were on BC Hydro land, and those were given an eviction notice and cleared by July 31, 2014.

Rudolph said the $40,000 can’t all be attributed to the protest camp, as other sites in the area required clean-up services, and about “three-quarters of that would be a safe bet,” he said.

Clean-up would still carry costs if done by city workers, who have to allocate their hours the same as a contractor, said Rudolph, but he didn’t know which would be more or less expensive.

The invoices range from $147 to one for just over $7,000. That invoice listed expenses related to a clean-up on West Railway Street which Rudolph said required extensive work.

Last June, the city spent $2,383.50 on clean-up. In December, it spent $8,521.60. The highest month was October, at $12,593.44.

Rudolph said the city is not pursuing removal of the protest camp on Gladys, which received an eviction notice in January 2014, because a court case challenging the city’s bylaws against camping in parks is expected to proceed in June.

He added that the city is not knowingly allowing any camps to be established anywhere in the city at this time.

Rudolph said the protest site is contained and is checked for safety by fire crews and bylaw services weekly.

“If the service wasn’t being provided, certainly it would be a more significant problem there in terms of the volume of the material and even the safety conditions that are being experienced there from folks living and occupying the site.”