Homeless camp eviction prompts questions about notification to service providers

Abbotsford Community Services, Salvation Army say little to no notice of pending evictions, but city says it contact was made.

Communication between the city and service providers regarding the evictions of homeless camps has been called into question.

Despite a protocol requiring the city to ensure service providers are aware of homeless camps slated for removal, two major organizations working to house people living on the street say they have received little to no notice about recent evictions, including one last week.

But the city is adamant it provided plenty of notice.

On Aug. 14, an encampment on the corner of George Ferguson Way and Gladys Avenue was dismantled because it was not a “sanctioned campsite,” according to the city, which maintained notification had been provided well in advance, and that service providers “are well aware in advance” of any camp closures.

In an emailed statement, city spokesperson Katherine Treloar said the city was in constant contact with the Salvation Army prior to the closing, and had also met with Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) two days prior.

“In this instance, the city followed protocol and ensured that numerous service providers were aware of this closure and ensured that services were available if and as required for any persons wishing to access them.”

But staff with those two organizations say that wasn’t the case and that communication has been limited, or non-existent, with the city.

Salvation Army public relations director Deb Lowell said the city only contacted the Sally Ann which operates the city’s only homeless shelter regarding Friday’s eviction the morning of the camp closure, which she said didn’t allow enough time for outreach workers to directly contact the camp residents.

Outreach workers don’t accompany bylaw officers so as to not be seen to be facilitating the evictions.

Jesse Wegenast, who administers rent subsidies for those at risk of homelessness for ACS, told The News he wasn’t aware of the evictions before they occurred. And the ACS’s Janna Dieleman said no one else at the organization had been notified, a position she reiterated Friday in a meeting with the city.

The communication breakdown isn’t a one-off, according to the Sally Ann.

While the city told The News they “work closely” with the Salvation Army, Lowell said that’s not the case.

“It seems like we haven’t been notified of late in terms of camp removals or evictions,” she said

Lowell said advance knowledge is important to help those being evicted.

“The challenge is that if we’re not aware that a camp is being evicted, it lessens our ability to make sure that the person has the resources that they need at the time of eviction.”

Wegenast, who also works as a pastor and homeless advocate for 5 and 2 Ministries, also said communication has been limited in the past. When he is contacted about the subsidies he administers, he said he can do little because there is never enough money to help all those who can’t afford to pay rents in Abbotsford.

His colleague at 5 and 2 Ministries, Ward Draper, said the city rarely contacts him about evictions, despite his ministry’s long relationship with many of the city’s homeless. Draper suggested notifications had peaked after the city had come under fire for spreading manure on a camp in 2013, but have decreased as the issue has receded from the headlines.

Draper and Wegenast have been outspoken in their opposition to evictions of homeless camps, and said those protocols are only the “least bad option.”

“We work not for the evictors, but the evictees,” Wegenast said. “The process is inherently flawed when there’s nothing waiting for the person.”

The city said another service provider, Shalom Ministry Services, which had a previous relationship with those affected, was on site during the eviction. The Salvation Army was also contacted about shelter space and meal availability the day of the eviction.

Treloar said the city will “be working closely with our partners out in the community to make sure our communications are improved.”

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