Fire crews battle a blaze early Monday morning at a home on Crescent Way in Abbotsford. (Kevin MacDonald photo)

Fire crews battle a blaze early Monday morning at a home on Crescent Way in Abbotsford. (Kevin MacDonald photo)

Fire, theft, fights: Homeless population disturbs east Abbotsford neighbourhood

Outreach worker says problems are offshoot of housing crisis

Vacant properties in east Abbotsford have attracted homeless people, leading to disturbances, thefts and fires in the last month, according to a nearby resident.

For the second time in five weeks, fire crews were called to a run-down home at the corner of Crescent Way and Cannon Avenue, near Ravine Park and Abbotsford Senior Secondary.

A cause has not yet been released for this week’s fire, which occurred early Monday morning. However, Louise Tait, who lives nearby, believes the fires are connected to people who have been squatting there.

The Crescent Way resident said she has seen the number of homeless people increase dramatically in the 15 years she has lived there. She said she has witnessed campfires, altercations and people under the influence of drugs.

Tait said a man was living in a shed at the back of her property this past winter. She only learned of his presence after he broke into their garage and stole thousands of dollars worth of tools, some of which, she said, they found in the shed.

Tait said she has called police and the city’s bylaw office countless times but has been left frustrated as the problems persist.

A city spokesperson said she could not answer questions about complaints made about the Crescent Way property or how the municipality has responded and suggested The News could file a freedom of information request.

Sgt. Judy Bird said Abbotsford Police have been called to the Crescent/Cannon home nine times since 2016. Most of those calls have been about trespassing and have included the co-operation of the property owner, who does not live there, she said.

Bird said she encourages residents with concerns about potential trespassers to call or text police. Police cannot kick someone off a property without the owner or resident having asked them to leave first, she said, but they may enter a property to investigate if suspicious activity or a potential break-and-enter has been reported.

Jesse Wegenast, an outreach pastor with 5 and 2 Ministries, said he understands the concerns of Tait and her neighbours.

“If that were my neighbourhood and I had fire engines roaring in, waking up my kids in the middle of the night, it would make me upset too,” he said. “I get it.”

But, Wegenast said, as people are kicked out of one area and migrate to another, the same clashes with residents follow. He said it’s a cycle that has been repeating for years.

“There’s nothing new under the sun,” he said.

Programs and resources are available to combat the housing crisis, such as shelters, a supportive housing project and help from organizations like 5 and 2. Two new modular housing projects are also in the works, but Wegenast said it’s still not enough.

“The ship is filling up with water faster than we can bail it out,” he said.