Number of homeless in Chilliwack on the rise, advocate says

“Some of it is we see a trend of folks coming up the valley, from Maple Ridge, from Surrey, some from East Hastings, and they’re just looking for what they’ve perceived to be a safer place to be," said the head of a local nonprofit.

Mayor estimates at least 15 homeless camps of various sizes in the city

The City of Chilliwack adopted a homelessness action plan in June to try and tackle the issue of homeless in the city. (Shutterstock)

The number of homeless people in Chilliwack is on the rise, according to the head of a local nonprofit that runs a shelter in the city.

"We've definitely seen an increase in homeless people, but also a lot of people who are marginalized," said Bill Raddatz, executive director of Ruth and Naomi's Mission.

During a 2014 homeless count, Chilliwack city staff found 73 people living on the street. Raddatz said he estimates that number to have doubled now, according to what he hears from outreach workers on the street.

He said he has also seen an increase in the number of people who access the services at his nonprofit mission.

"We feed families at 6 p.m. and then at 7 p.m. we feed the general population, and most of them are poor, disenfranchised and homeless," he said.

"Just over a year ago on the family side we would average 20-to-25 people whereas now we're seeing 60-to-70 in a night. Then we used to see about a 100 of general population which was mostly male, and that has increased to 140 a night, and that is all in the last two years."

Not enough housing: advocate


Raddatz said it is "hard to pinpoint" the reasons for the increase, but said he believes the price of housing and low vacancy rate in the city may be factors.

"Some of it is economic, some of it is we see a trend of folks coming up the valley, from Maple Ridge, from Surrey, some from East Hastings, and they're just looking for what they've perceived to be a safer place to be."

Raddatz said the city's shelter situation is "actually pathetic."

He said the city's only emergency shelter is the Salvation Army, and said Ruth and Naomi's Mission also provides 16 beds as part of their program to help people get away from life on the street.

Raddatz said he would like to see all three levels of government do more to address homelessness in the city.

He said there is space on the same property as Ruth and Naomi's Mission to put up a building that would have up to 40 two and three-bedroom units. He's currently applying for funding for the project.

Bylaw allows camping in city

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz told CBC News last week she estimates there are at least 15 homeless camps of various sizes currently in the city.

The city recently amended a bylaw to allow the homeless to camp in parks from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. That bylaw has since sparked an online petition asking the city only to allow tents to be set up after 10 p.m.

Gaetz said the B.C. Supreme Court has given homeless the right to camp in parks, and said she enacted the bylaw to put some restrictions around when and where tents could go up each evening.

"We didn't want them close to play structures, we didn't want them close to playing fields," she said.

The City of Chilliwack adopted a homelessness action plan in June.

The plan includes includes working with federal and provincial partners to increase the supply of affordable housing as well as to increase the amount of supportive housing and youth shelter beds.

With files from CBC's On the Coast and Anita Bathe