The Fraser Health Authority has filed a notice of civil claim that it hopes will lead to the removal of a homeless protest camp on the grounds of the former MSA Hospital at 2179 McCallum Rd.
The camp has been in place since mid-July, and Fraser Health, which owns the property, says in its lawsuit that the inhabitants are trespassing on private land but have refused to leave, despite several prior requests.
There are currently about a dozen people residing on the property.
The agency is requesting a permanent court injunction for the removal of the camp and to prohibit any further trespassing on the property.
The land has remained vacant since the former hospital was demolished in early 2009 and the new Abbotsford Regional Hospital was opened on Marshall Road.
In the court documents, Fraser Health says it had always intended that a fence enclose the entire McCallum Road property, but it wasn’t aware until last month that the fence on the western boundary had been erected about 25 to 30 feet from the property line.
The campers set up in that unfenced strip, and when Fraser Health workers attempted to relocate the fence, they were unable to do so in the occupied area, the documents state.
Letters requesting that they vacate the area were delivered and read aloud to the inhabitants on July 14 and 20, and a formal “notice of prohibition of entry to premises” was delivered on July 18, according to the notice of civil claim.
Members of the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) also requested that the occupants leave, but officers did not remove them or their belongings.
Fraser Health said the APD indicated it would not take action against the campers unless a court order was obtained authorizing them to do so.
The campers previously told The Abbotsford News that they believe their presence could put pressure on the provincial government and B.C. Housing to build more affordable housing and provide more social services.
Last week, Ward Draper of 5 and 2 Ministries, which advocates for and assists the homeless, said the protest “is just another reminder in so many ways that we need housing to be addressed.”
A similar protest camp was set up in Jubilee Park in October 2013, and the City of Abbotsford went through the courts to obtain an injunction prohibiting camping in the park.
The occupants vacated the park in December 2013, but some of them moved to another area on Gladys Avenue, which also became the subject of court action.
A 2015 ruling determined that the city could ban permanent encampments on public land, but individuals had the right to sleep outdoors as long as they left with their belongings by 9 a.m. each day.
The occupants of the Gladys Avenue camp permanently left the property in February of this year, after the city passed a bylaw designating the street-side area as a highway. Fences now surround that area, as well as a site across the street that had also been occupied.
The hospital property owned by Fraser Health does not fall under the jurisdiction of the court rulings and the city bylaws.
Meanwhile, a group of residents who live in the Alameda Court condo complex at 2277 and 2279 McCallum Rd. have signed a petition and delivered it to Mayor Henry Braun and MLA Darryl Plecas.
The petition recalls for the immediate removal of the camp, saying it is occupied by “several unsavoury-looking characters who appear to be dealing in drugs and stolen merchandise.”
“There are many elderly ladies living in our complex who are afraid to use the bus stop next to this camp for fear of being accosted or robbed,” the petition states.
They also say they are concerned that garbage in the camp will attract rats.