Abbotsford's mayor refutes claims city is dismantling homeless camps
'We haven't taken any camps down, we have asked people to comply with the judge's orders'
The lawyer who represented Abbotsford's homeless population in a successful bid for the right to sleep in public parks claims the city is ignoring the B.C. Supreme Court decision.
In October, the court ruled the city's homeless can erect temporary camps starting at 7 p.m., as long as they are removed by 9 a.m. the next day. The ruling also provides for spaces to be available for habitation longer than overnight.
"They are literally going into the camps and hunting people down to take down the camps in the middle of winter," claims DJ Larkin, a lawyer and housing campaigner with Pivot Legal Society.
She says these are camps set up in relatively remote city park spaces that have long been the solution for those not wanting to stay in shelters.
"At least one couple who were living in a non-developed park, not an area that other people use, were given verbal notice that they had to leave, and if they weren't gone by the next day their belongings were going to be taken," she said
"We believe that the [court] decision means that those established camps are part of what is required for more than overnight habitation, because displacement itself causes harm."
Abbotsford's mayor refutes those claims.
"We haven't taken any camps down. We have asked people to comply with the judge's orders," said Mayor Henry Braun.
"We worked very hard. Within a month of the court's decision, we had a 40-bed, temporary winter shelter up and running, and the response has been very positive."
Braun says so far nine people have been moved from the temporary shelter to permanent housing after working with case management specialists and the completion of a permanent shelter is projected for April of 2017.
He says the city does plan to remove a long-established and controversial camp on Gladys Road, saying it is not protected by the Supreme Court ruling because it's not on park land.
Larkin feels that represents a limited view of the decision. She says the city's homeless population should be able to camp wherever it feels safe.
'They have found community'
"Some people, who are staying in the Gladys camp, are saying they have found community, they have found safety," she said.
"People in the camp are extremely concerned because they know they are going to be negatively affected. They are going to be displaced."
Still, Braun defends the city's choice.
"Everybody, including the [Supreme Court] judge, has said that there's some safety issues at Gladys. So Gladys just can't continue, but that doesn't mean they can't pitch their tents somewhere else. We have 157 parks in Abbotsford."
Braun says Abbotsford city council will begin the process of officially bringing its bylaws in line with the Supreme Court decision on Monday.