It’s shy of what one might call a “tent city,” but a congregation of tents has been gathering next to the site of Abbotsford’s former homeless encampment.
Where previously, one or two tents might have been spotted in the grassy area across Gladys Avenue from the Mennonite Central Committee, for the past couple of weeks one will commonly see 10 or 11.
At the camp, a neatly stacked pile of filled garbage bags recently sat just off the road, which Harvey Clause said was an effort to keep the place clean while they are there.
“We figure if we put the garbage at the curb, they’ll pick it up, just like anybody else,” he said, adding that at times cleanup contractors who work to clear homeless camps will sometimes come by and pick up the garbage.
Clause and Grace Unruh, who have both been camping at the spot, gave a couple of reasons for the recent crop of tents.
“Everybody was moving outwards. Now they’re clear cutting everything and they’re mowing down everything, and where are we going to camp?” Clause said, adding that he’s sensing a growing frustration in the homeless community. “We need someplace to lay our heads.”
He said he applied to get into the modular housing project recently opened by the Lookout Society and BC Housing, but was unsuccessful. Unruh, meanwhile, said she typically found supportive housing to have too many rules – many don’t allow residents to have guests.
Unruh added that some people came out of the seniors’ winter shelter and haven’t had another place to stay.
“And strength comes in numbers,” she said of congregating tents together.
At nearly 60 years old, Clause said lugging his entire life around with him all day is tiring, and that he needs a place where he can maintain a campsite and feel relatively secure leaving his items there.
Community reactions to the growing camp have been hit or miss, Unruh said, whether it’s people coming by and dropping off food or more rude reactions from people driving by.
And the location has not been immune to what has been dubbed the “Abbotsford shuffle.”
“Nothing’s changed. Everybody’s still kind of in the same boat, where you have to tear down and get shuffled around,” Unruh said.
On a rainy day a couple of weeks ago, Clause said refused to tear down his tent, which he had set up at 5 p.m., two hours before bylaws allow tents on city-owned property.
“It was to protect myself so I didn’t have to freeze to death,” Clause said, adding that while he couldn’t stay in the tent, he would be told to move along just about anywhere else he went.
“Doesn’t matter where we sit down. We’re not allowed to stay there … Move your apartment every day to a different location by yourself. Pick it up, everything you own. Tell us how it feels.”
He said he was detained by police, but ultimately let go. Police say they only attend when called by bylaw or others to maintain public safety and assist in enforcing trespassing laws on BC Hydro property, where the current crop of homeless tents is located.
City of Abbotsford spokesperson Alex Mitchell said the land in question is BC Hydro property, but bylaw officers attend the area, which is considered part of a city road right of way and a safety risk.
“Bylaw staff actively engage community Outreach Support services whenever they interact with campers in our community to ensure that vulnerable individuals have opportunities to utilize available shelter options,” Mitchell said in an email.