By Laura Rodgers, Abbotsford News
The protest homeless camp on Gladys Avenue has now expanded across the street.
A group of people affiliated with the longstanding site across from the MCC Centre put up tents a few days ago on another patch of city-owned land nearby at the corner of Gladys and Cyril Street.
Barry Shantz, a director of the homeless advocacy group B.C./Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS), said they’ve expanded beyond the initial site for multiple reasons. He and other homeless people in Abbotsford were unhappy when the city shut down another homeless camp at Gladys and George Ferguson Way on Aug. 14, which made them want to “take” more city-owned land. He also said chilly fall weather has made the local homeless population want to cluster together for warmth and safety.
“We’re going to be setting up tents as needed,” said Shantz. “And we’re probably going to be taking more land.”
He estimates about eight to 10 people are currently sleeping at the new protest camp site, on a small triangle of land. More are still at the original camp across on the other side of Gladys Avenue, which was established in 2013.
Campers moved to the initial Gladys site after the city was granted a court injunction to remove a homeless protest camp in Jubilee Park.
Since then, DWS have appealed that ruling, and arguments for and against the city’s bylaw prohibiting camps in public parks were heard in the B.C. Supreme Court this summer. The ruling on this case has not yet been issued.
The new site has a small cluster of dome tents and lean-tos, as well as a larger rain shelter under a propped-up blue tarp.
The property is partially owned by the Abbotsford District Teachers’ Association and the city, with the city-owned portions covered in uneven mounds of gravel.
Some tents are currently on teachers’ association-owned land, but Shantz says they will be shortly moved to the city-owned area.
The City of Abbotsford has put forward a number of initiatives aimed at helping the city’s large homeless population, but Shantz says it’s not enough.
“The city has still really done nothing, at all, in almost two years of us fighting like this,” he said.
“They’ve done nothing at all for this group of people…If they think they’re going to cause these people to be ignored, or get them to disappear, it ain’t happening.”
The City of Abbotsford is currently deciding how to respond to the new camp.
“As this is a brand new camp, the city is currently reviewing the particulars of the situation,” said city spokesperson Katherine Treloar.
She confirmed that part of the land in the area is city-owned.