Residents of downtown Chilliwack have been complaining to everyone they could think of about the homeless hangout situation at Bole and Fletcher Park.
Neighbours gathered at the park recently to let the community know they’ve had enough with the constant drug use, noise, fighting, drug deals, and garbage in the tiny park.
Resident Sheila Smith and some of her neighbours met with City of Chilliwack officials including Mayor Ken Popove a few months ago, but it hasn’t resulted in any changes.
“It has gotten worse, not better,” Smith said.
Some of the irritants she mentioned: “They are using our parking for their bathroom, and getting very nasty when told not to.”
People also return there at night after being cleared out of the park, but it is not a designated overnight park.
“We have asked them to either fence the park up, or get rid of it, as no kids use it, and it smells bad,” Smith said.
In the short time the group of residents were talking to a Progress reporter in the park, a city operations crew showed up to clean up trash that was blowing around and empty the trash cans, and two Griffin security trucks stopped by at different intervals to check things out. So the park is clearly on the radar of responsible agencies.
Neighbour Val Aguiar has kept a written log of everything she witnessed from July to October in the park. She listed people shooting up, smoking crack, using foul language and urinating on the fence, trees, and walkways. She’s seen drug overdoses, people taking off their clothes, nodding off, having sex, lighting trash can fires, brokering drug deals and fighting.
Aguiar watched a pitbull kill a puppy being walked by a passerby, and has witnessed park users get in confrontations with security guards.
Neighbour Karen Golanowski said her concern was the day care, located on the other side of the fence where people hang out during the day using drugs, selling drugs, sharing drugs.
No one chases the substance users away from the fence despite the wafting fumes that sometimes enter their apartments that overlook the park. They can’t walk their dogs there anymore.
“This park belongs to the kids. We understand that they need a place to go but this park is not the place for them. It’s just too small,” Golanowski said.
Neighbour Phil Coward said their driveway was almost completely blocked one night, with homeless carts, pets in cages, and more.
“If I’d have had to get out, I would have had to drive over all their stuff,” he said.
Griffin Security owner Brian Goldstone said he can understand the concerns of residents who live around the little park.
He requested a meeting recently with city officials and police given the rise in complaints.
“It’s gaining in popularity right now,” he said.
One afternoon earlier this month there were a whopping 23 people crowding the little park.
“That’s a lot for any park,” Goldstone said. “But I came through the park and there was no one using and no one was high and no one was smoking.”
So there’s not much that can be done.
“We have a lot of new people downtown,” Goldstone pointed out.
Unfortunately, all the shelter beds were full that week in Chilliwack, and were reporting being over capacity, which likely led to the spilling over of unhoused people into parks.
“They’re coming to Chilliwack from different places including Vancouver.”
They’re bringing attitude when asked to move.
“They don’t seem to want to participate or get along with the community,” the owner of Griffin said, who is a former RCMP officer.
But despite the complaints, he has to remind everyone that those hanging out in the park have the legal right to be there, since it’s not illegal to be homeless.
“People can yell and scream all they like but the courts are going to back the homeless in this case or anyone else using the park.”
For Griffin it’s a constant process of reminding folks of the rules, monitoring the hot spots, and moving folks around when they overstay their welcome in public parks.
“All of the parks become hangouts at one time or another,” Goldstone said.
Goldstone asked for a meeting with City of Chilliwack officials, and RCMP, to discuss the increase in complaints that have poured in.
City of Chilliwack crews installed some playground equipment in 2011, which the neighbours were thankful of at the time.
But crews had to return in 2018 and remove some landscaping and bushes for an upgrade, after discarded needles were found, and many complaints came in about the “undesirable” activities in the urban park.
Now bare, hard-packed clay, swings, toddler equipment, and some scrubby grass is all that remains aside from some large trees.
City of Chilliwack spokesperson Jamie Leggatt confirmed they are also “aware of concerns” at Bole and Fletcher Park, as are the RCMP.
Some residents said they’ve seen outreach people deliver food or harm reduction supplies to people in the park, but Leggatt said it was not a practice they encourage.
“We have asked outreach workers and service providers to avoid utilizing public parks as locations to provide services, including harm reduction services and meals.”
City officials will continue to make their concerns known as housing falls under a provincial jurisdiction, she said.
“Additionally, residents should call the RCMP if people are disturbing the peace at night with yelling and fighting, or if they feel unsafe,” Leggatt said.
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