Gladys Avenue was busy on Thursday, as the area filled with people, vehicles, carts and recycling company trucks during the eviction of homeless camps along the street.
Many residents of the camps were moved items out of the area, following an eviction notice set for July 31 from BC Hydro, which owns the land.
The main camp affected is located on Gladys Avenue across from the Salvation Army. A large portion of the camp farther west, where a teepee is situated, is not on BC Hydro land and is not impacted.
The camps, which have existed on the avenue in high profile for more than a year, were ordered to leave by 9 a.m.
At that time there was little movement, but by midday, homeless residents, with assistance from volunteers, service providers, and recycling services, began to remove items from the area.
A number of citizens turned out with signs expressing support for the homeless, and at one point in the morning stopped traffic on the road by standing and singing.
Some property owners from the Gladys Avenue area watched the cleanup, expressing hope the site would actually be cleared this time, citing declining property values, an inability to sell their homes due to the presence of the camps, and increasing property crimes.
Police issued a news release last week stating that property crime in the area had more than doubled in the area and that weapons had been brandished at the camps’ residents, leading to safety concerns.
At times during Thursday’s eviction, traffic backed up along the road as vehicles attempted to navigate through throngs of people, items and other vehicles.
The site, located across from service provider Salvation Army, has been prominent since June 2013, after city crews dumped manure on the known gathering spot to move the homeless out of the area.
The camp, which at that time moved a short distance down the road, was later deemed a health hazard by Fraser Health in September. The site was vacated and the campers moved back to the original site where the manure had been dumped.
Ward Draper, an advocate for the homeless and pastor with 5 and 2 Ministries, said that while the residents are complying with the notice, it’s possible some people will just move along to other camps “where they will be kicked along again.” He said estimates of the number of people on the avenue ranges from 20 to 40.
He said that while some people on Gladys Avenue have moved into housing, more affordable and accessible accommodation is needed in Abbotsford, as well as mental health and housing support, and ownership of the issue by civic government.
Deb Lowell, spokesperson for the Salvation Army, said housing has been found for about 10 people, with the assistance of additional rental supplements from BC Housing.
She said their work has been ongoing to find a housing solution for each individual and that will continue.
It’s not known where others who have not taken housing offers will go.
Const. Ian MacDonald said police were not anticipating any issues with the move. He said most of the campers speaking with front-line officers earlier indicated they intended to vacate the area.
Mora Scott, spokesperson with BC Hydro, said they have been working with municipal officials and service providers to find housing options for people and are hopeful that everyone will vacate the site.
“Right now, it looks really hopeful that people are going to take the housing options available to them. It seems like everyone is kind of packing up and moving along.”
Singh Biln, director of community relations for Southern Railway of BC, which operates trains on the tracks through the area, said safety was a concern.
Contracted by the railway and BC Hydro, workers from a recycling company were on scene to remove trash and aid in the cleanup.
Photos below: BC Hydro issued notice for residents of the homeless camps on Gladys Avenue to vacate the site. Volunteers from a number of faith-based organizations were there to assist in the move.